Elections 2004 offer advertisers huge visibility quotient

Elections 2004 and Indo-Pak cricket 2004. Get set for the tidal wave. On the media front that is. From a purely media perspective, these two events will probably set new benchmarks in India for the term blanket coverage.

The question is really how do elections stack up against cricket? Is it a no-contest from the outset? Comparing the deliveries of the recently concluded Assembly Elections and the VB Series between Australia, India and Zimbabwe, threw up some surprising data.

The Assembly elections were conducted in five states of which there is viewership data available for two states, viz, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. Hence, the analysis was conducted for these markets. In the ambit of the comparison was the performance of news channels (as a whole genre) on the counting day of the assembly elections i.e., 4 December 2003 with the average performance of the India matches between the period 1 January '04 - 22 January '04 (specifically 9, 14, 18, 20 and 22 January).

Within these two markets, the total tune-ins on the day of the counting for the Assembly elections was higher than the average tune-in for India specific matches.

If we look at the shares of news channels (as a whole genre) as compared to the shares of India matches, elections outperform cricket by 20 per cent to 40 per cent.

The performance of the news genre as given above was only for the Assembly elections conducted in five of the states of India. So extrapolating it onto the general elections, the interest levels across the board would expected to be far higher. And also, factoring in the point that Ten Sports, which has the exclusive broadcast rights for the series is not as strong on distribution as ESPN Star Sports, there is a definite case for putting more monies behind news channels, right? Media planners that spoke to were all of the opinion that the elections offered a very interesting advertising opportunity. But in drawing a competitive comparison with cricket, not all were quite so enthusiastic.

Says Starcom Worldwide general manager-Investment and New Initiatives Manish Porwal, "There are three reasons why the elections are going to be a must buy for many media planners. It is for sure that a news dominated plan will be a clear value for money proposition."

On a cost-per-reach point basis the news channels will far outperform cricket.
It doesn't take nearly as much to dominate the collective news channels space. For those brands that cannot strategically invest in cricket, the elections will provide a great opportunity. For an equivalent domination that would cost Rs 300 million plus on cricket, on the news channels it would not be more than Rs 70 million.
It makes huge amounts of sense, not just for male-targeted brands, but even for female targeted brands. That's because there is not the negativism attached to this year's poll exercise, some of which is definitely a function of the "feel good factor" that the BJP has been going to town about, feels Porwal.
The common ground between both the elections and cricket is in the involvement factor, which is much higher than for the regular soaps, says Porwal. Elaborating on that point, he states that these two activities will dominate discussions among the people cutting across demography as well as geography.

Porwal qualifies that statement by pointing out however, that, "There is also a need to recognise that there are going to be only certain "star products" around the polls which will add actual value for the advertiser. These will be election day coverage and things like exit polls. As for the other programming packages that the news channels are putting together in the lead up to the polls, he remains unconvinced.

Just what does all this feel good around news channels translate into? Porwal believes that around Rs 750 million is the total advertising that will be committed on the main news channels during election month.

Interestingly, the biggest beneficiary of this extra "largesse" as it were is likely to be Dr. Prannoy Roy's two channels NDTV India and NDTV 24x7, says Porwal. Even more than ratings leader Aaj Tak? As far as media buyers are concerned, says Porwal, the fact that Dr Roy, the man who brought the whole science of psephology to television, is back with his old "team-mate" Vinod Dua makes for an unbeatable combination. The fact that NDTV covers both the English and Hindi space makes the two channels that much more of a compelling advertising buy, he adds.

Sanjoy Chakrabarty director investments Group M is also pretty gung ho about the prospects of news channels in the election season. "There is a media and marketing opportunity here," says Chakrabarty.

Chakrabarty expects some clients to also follow the spot buy route and put in advertising for just ten days around the actual polling dates. He puts the expected incremental spend on news channels during elections to be in the Rs 300-350 million range. Adding up the average spend on news channels expected this year at Rs 450 million (per month across ten months), that means that the spend on news channels would be about Rs 800 million.

The biggest drawback of news channels, according to Chakrabarty, is the fragmented nature of news consumption. This needs to be borne in mind when any comparisons are made with cricket on a sports channel, he says. A point also made by TAM India's Atul Phadnis who says, "From an advertisers perspective, the clear advantage that cricket provides is that it aggregates a large mass of audiences across the country at one time and on one channel."

The way Chakrabarty sees it, "News is highly perception driven." The success with which each news channel addresses three key sets of people will ultimately decide where the advertising rupee will flow - the viewer, the advertiser and equally importantly, opinion leaders and decision makers.

According to Chakrabarty, it is this perceptional advantage that will lead to the largest chunk of advertising being shared between Aaj Tak, NDTV and Star News. And this need not be directly linked to ratings, Chakrabarty emphasises. For Chakrabarty, the channel(s) that will have an edge though, is NDTV. Like Porwal, he also believes that the combination of Roy and Dua make for a compelling combination.

But it is how news during the upcoming elections will stack up against the Indo-Pak "mother of all cricket series" that is at issue here and Initiative Media's Manas Mishra throws in a reality check on this.

"The fuzzy logic about visibility is that you must be noticeably visible." Can a news channel-based plan be anywhere near as effective in terms of impact? is his poser. Mishra likens cricket to the Superbowl in the US. "It (cricket) has a dimension that goes beyond numbers." Says he about a news channel based media plan. "I think in terms of visibility, one can achieve it and that too at a competitive cost. But the question remains around impact. 'Will the impact remain diffused or not?'"

One way to get around this, according to him, is for an advertiser to become a virtual "title sponsor" for the elections. Such a "sponsor" would be the biggest advertiser across all news channels for the duration of the elections. And whichever the channel that a viewer might switch to, it would be the "title sponsor" that would be the most visible.

So there it is. The news channels will be able to deliver visibility, but to deliver impact comparable to cricket now that's a whole different ball game.

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