Weak IPL5 ratings cause for concern

MUMBAI: After a spell of success for three consecutive years, the Indian Premier League is getting a harsh reality check. While Max, the official broadcaster, has found it tough to sell to advertisers at last year?s rates, the initial ratings are a matter of concern for the long-term growth of the property.

The average rating for the first six matches of the fifth edition of the IPL has hit an all-time low, scoring weaker than last year?s which had taken place immediately after a long-drawn World Cup at home that India went on to win. TAM data shows that the average rating stood at 3.76 TVR, a big drop from the 4.63 TVR that the event garnered last year. The third edition of the event had done even better with average rating of 4.99 TVR.

Making matters worse for Max is the fact that the overall reach too has seen a 10 per cent drop to 90 million from 101 million last year. If the ratings continue their downward spiral, it will have huge implications for Max in particular as it had to make do with unsold inventory and lesser sponsors for this season. The channel had made Rs 9 billion in revenues from last season?s IPL in spite of average viewership for the tournament falling even as the overall reach increased.

The drop in ratings will certainly put pressure on Max. As it has sold just 65-70 per cent of its commercial time.However, MSM president network sales, licensing and telephony Rohit Gupta says that it is still early for an analysis. "We need to give it another week. We are doing deals."

Industry experts point out that the main reasons for the drop in ratings are Team India?s disastrous performance in England and Australia followed by lackluster showing in the four nation Asia Cup with the win over Pakistan being the only talking point coupled with one-sided matches in the IPL.

The mood in the market is that while there were no sky high expectations from the IPL this year, in the same breath it wasn?t expected to do this bad.

Percept Jt MD Shailendra Singh reasons that the positioning of the IPL as a "youth" league has gone for a toss what with retired players Adam Gilchrist and Rahul Dravid taking centrestage.

"The IPL has become a veteran league with so many retired players playing in the tournament. The franchises should have promoted the youth faces. The whole purpose of the IPL will be defeated if the youth is not given due recognition," he avers.

GroupM ESP managing partner Hiren Pandit does not agree that the IPL has lost its youth value. He believes that the lack of competitiveness is driving away interest. The Indian team?s pathetic form also contributed to the low interest.

Pandit, though, cautions against writing off the IPL as the data is just for the first six matches. "I think it?s too early to comment, let?s wait for some more matches. But, yes, the ratings have gone down due to lack of good performance from players and the Indian team?s performance in the recent tours," he says.

He is also hopeful that a couple of good performances will lift the mood among fans. A case in point is last year?s IPL when Chris Gayle took the IPL by storm with his ruthless knocks. Gayle, who remained unsold during the auction, was taken as a replacement player by Royal Challengers Bangalore, which turned out to be a game changer.

Singh feels that the franchises should do more activity round the year to engage fans and the emphasis should be on the sport rather than entertainment. He is quick to add that the right dosage of entertainment is also needed.

Maxus and Motivator South Asia MD Ajit Varghese says though the drop in ratings is a concern, advertisers at the same time will get a value out of their marketing investment?s since a rating of 3.76 is not that bad either. He also contends that advertisers who have taken on-air sponsorship this year will gain more as the number of advertisers is less which will result in less clutter.

"We never had high expectations from the IPL this season as ratings have taken a hit due to Indian team?s (bad) performance. However the drop in ratings remain a concern," Varghese adds. "Different advertisers have different objectives to get on to the IPL bandwagon. Some might want to use it to launch products, while others do it for impact. Some also might do it to strengthen their leadership position."

A sports marketing expert feels that one reason for lower ratings is a lack of close match endings. "Glamour also is important as the IPL has always been sold as an entertainment property. The fact that ?Houseful? did well at the box office shows that people are not interrupting their schedule to watch matches," the executive says.

Pandit, however, has a contrarian view. "I don?t think that (glamour) it will do any wonders for the IPL because at the end of the day it is about the sport, which in itself is an entertainment proposition."

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