Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022, sponsored by the Tata group, attracted 229 million television viewers in the first week of the tournament’s 15th year, falling short of last year’s numbers.
According to data released by the Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC), a TV audience measurement firm, IPL had a reach of 267 million last year.
Reach is referred to as the total number of individuals who viewed an event for at least one minute.
TV viewership has dropped for multiple factors, but it is not a cause of concern because a tectonic shift has taken place in viewership patterns, said Divyanshu Singh, head of sales and marketing, JSW Sports.
"If you look at concurrent viewers on Disney+Hotstar, in 2021 there were 10 million people and right now that number has increased to 13 million," Singh said.
Disney + Hotstar is the official digital streaming partner of IPL. Streaming services are also known as over-the-top, or OTT, platforms.
Venkat Erpina- VP- Marketing at Fast&Up, a brand that has been advertising on IPL this year, said that there should be no concern for advertisers about this decline because with adoption to other sports, advertisers are getting more options along with television to advertise on.
Mobile phone the new set-top box
Singh added: "We see a similar pattern in football and kabaddi wherein Pro-Kabaddi League (PKL) which is primarily a Tier II, III property saw a significant drop in TV viewership as compared to earlier benchmarks but for Indian Super League (ISL), which is an urban phenomenon, the loss to OTT was not so much because urban Indians were early adopters of the league."
Time spent and audience traffic metrics on sports and aggregator-based OTT’s is almost 1.5-3x that of broadcasters and other niche OTT platforms, Karan Taurani, senior vice president at Elara Capital, said in an earlier interview.
While most OTTs convert 10 percent of their monthly active users (MAUs) into daily active users (DAUs), Disney+Hotstar, which offers sports, especially IPL, has a higher conversion rate of 15-20 percent, he said.
Ambarish Ray, co-founder and CEO of Digital Dogs Content and Media, put it this way: the mobile phone has become the new set-top box and streaming is the new broadcasting.
Many brands have also moved to digital media for advertising from TV, their traditional avenue, said Neha Puri, founder and CEO of Vavo Digital. Big bucks are now being spent to advertise products on digital media rather than on TV to air shorter 30-40-second ads.
Digital advertising is growing at a 25 percent annual clip compared to the advertising video on-demand (AVOD) market, which is expanding faster at 30-35 percent.
Traffic driver and game changer
A blip in TV viewership shouldn't be a major concern because the audience is divided between TV and the OTT platform, said Rajeev Khanna, a cricket expert and former vice-president of the IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals.
"People are going back to work and stepping out, which is why TV viewership is dipping. The viewership is going to increase in playoffs, especially if we look at the performance of young talent in the league," Khanna said.
An auction of IPL media rights is due in June, and since the last such auction, the tournament has posted a significant increase in viewership, said Shirley D'Costa, chief business officer at media network Kulfi Collective.
IPL will remain a steady traffic drive and game changer for any network that acquires the rights, D’Costa said and added: "So, I don’t see the current viewership drastically impacting the auction."
Last year, IPL garnered 380 million viewers until match 35, 12 million higher than IPL 2020 at the same stage.
Marketers worriedWhatever the experts say, marketers are worried by the TV viewership drop.
"It’s appalling to see the IPL ratings falling down by almost 30 percent. Advertisers had paid a premium against last year‘s costings," said Sahil Chopra, CEO of iCubesWire, a digital marketing agency.
A 33 percent dip in TV ratings for the first eight matches is indeed a big drop and if the next couple of weeks don’t make up for the dip, it could be cause of concern, added Prashant Puri, co-founder and CEO of AdLift.
IPL ad rates this year increased to Rs 16 lakh for a 10-second spot from Rs 14 lakh last year.
Reasons behind viewership dip
Marketers cited some of the reasons they thought were responsible for the drop in TV viewership of IPL.
"Relaxation of pandemic norms and opening up of outdoor activities for consumers is one reason impacting IPL 2022's TV viewership,” said Kulfi Collective's D'Costa.
A sharp rebound in footfalls at bars and pubs and people watching IPL matches out of home is also one reason the for the drop, said JSW Sports' Singh.
Vavo Digital's Puri noted that the current season is longer than its predecessors because of the addition of two more teams.
"May be that leads to people waiting for the semifinals to tune into the excitement rather than following it from Day One. Also, during the last season, IPL had no afternoon games in the first week, while this season the afternoon games have pulled down the ratings," she added.
Cricket fatigue?Manveer Singh Malhi, a marketing professional pointed, reckoned that cricket fatigue is one reason for the drop in TV viewership for IPL 2020.
"Gap between IPL 14 and 15 is less than six months. The 2021 edition was partially played in the second half of the year due to COVID-19," he pointed out.
Restrictions on venues and matches not being played locally has dampened the enthusiasm of fans, said Sandeep Goyal, managing director of Rediffusion."There are too many changes in the teams so it looks like there is no player loyalty. Only the likes of (MS) Dhoni stayed with the same franchise for 15 years. To build stickiness and loyalty, the franchises have to have much lesser player attrition. Most of the better overseas players are no longer playing the IPL. That also is a big downer," he said.