Sony reaps benefits of innovation concerted effort

Sony reaps IPL rewards for innovation, concerted effort

The Indian Premier League‘s success has exceeded everybody‘s expectations, including that of broadcast rights holder MSM India‘s Max channel.

While no one will argue against the fact that the kind of success IPL‘s inaugural edition has enjoyed could never have been anticipated, even by the most die-hard optimist, due credit must be given to the broadcaster on two fronts - innovation and a concerted marketing effort.

Logistical challenges: Max business head Sneha Rajani notes the IPL was an innovative format to begin with. So everything done was innovative by default. "At the same time, though we needed to do a lot of things in two months, we sat together with the team owners to put it all together.

"It was a day and night task. It was logistically more difficult that the World Cup. Mind you for the 2007 World Cup we had two years to plan things. The IPL had more crowds, more flight movements and more equipment - all of which had to be dealt with. I feel that it is a miracle that everything went off so smoothly."

Innovation: After five years of success with its wrap around show Extraaa Innings, Max decided to completely revamp it. "We wanted to refresh it and turn it on its head. We did not want to continue with the same format. It became a one hour show. We went from a remote central studio to a studio that was based on the ground closer to the action."

It also introduced young faces as anchors. 600 people were auditioned. Rajani explains that the aim was to have faces that the youth could relate with. "Mandira Bedi is an icon, a superstar. It is difficult for the youth to relate to her. So while the auditions made life more difficult for us we were determined to do it. We went with fresh young male faces.

"We needed multiple anchors to be the main presenters in the studio and the roving reporters on the ground. We found the six anchors and the format was tweaked to make it crisper. We even conceived a song for Extraaa Innings Karo Ya Maro."

She asserts that after the channel introduced Mandira Bedi five years back, many channels started to copy the formula. "The best form of flattery is imitation. As we are leaders, we then decided to turn it on its head for the IPL. Nobody anticipated that we would go with youthful guys."

Astute marketing: Sony president network sales, licensing and telephony Rohit Gupta says that one of the main reasons for the IPL‘s success was the marketing effort that was done by all the parties involved. "The activities began well before the event kicked off. Different people marketed different properties. This generated huge interest among the media. As a result people sampled it. They stayed on thereafter as great cricket was on offer."

Rajani adds that at the start the broadcaster sat down with the franchisees to set up a blueprint in terms of who would be doing which activities and at what period of time. At the start the IPL did its campaign. This was followed by campaigns by the different team owners. Finally Max did its own marketing in the four-week lead up to the event.

"A chart was drawn out as to who would be doing what and at what stage. The timelines were met. The IPL‘s campaign Cricket ka Karamyud was distinct. The owners had concepts reflecting their personalities. Preiti‘s for instance, had a North Indian Punjabi feel."

Max‘s IPL campaign slogan was Manoranjan kA Baap. Rajani explains that last year, when Max had made a presentation to the BCCI, they wanted to position the event as the greatest spectacle there is as far as cricket is concerned. The channel‘s team stuck to that positioning throughout. "We knew that the campaign had to stand out. We gave the campaign a 70‘s movie feel with a lot of melodrama. This was key as we were competing with the soaps and serials bang on. Our message was that the IPL was something that would break the shackles of the soaps and movies, which have been ruling the roost.

"The feedback to our campaign stunned us. People understood what we were trying to say. Our message was that IPL is a quick fix reality show. It takes the same time as a film to complete."

Less is more: What is interesting is that Max did just one major interactive initiative for the IPL. This was in association with Godrej and through SMS one could win a fully furnished flat worth Rs 10 million. The aim was not to have a cluttered environment. Also the three-hour duration of a match does not give one too much time to do things.

The Ad Scene: There was scepticism prior to the event that the cricket would not be serious. The fear was that huge money would dilute the game. All that though was hogwash and high quality cricket won in the end. "The T20 format is powerful. Ratings were above 7 among males 15+. This is what cricket advertisers target," explains Gupta.

On the revenue front, Gupta notes that Sony expects to at least be on the break-even point once final calculations are done. Earlier, the expectation was that there would be a shortfall of around $ 4 million in the first year. However, since the response was huge, the channel was able to scale up rates for the 200 seconds that it had in the bank for each match. "For the semi finals and final we sold at Rs 8-10 lakhs per 10 seconds. We have set a benchmark pricing for the second season," asserts Gupta.

The pricing for season two will be aggressive. In fact Sony is looking to do deals by mid-July. This would give the sponsors eight to nine months to plan activities. "Our existing clients are keen to return. We want to give brands enough time to get their act together so that they get full value from it," says Gupta.

Plans going forward: In terms of the rub off effect, Gupta notes that the IPL has given the broadcaster a good platform to launch Dus kA Dum. "We were able to promote our big shows well. Something similar happened in 2003 post the World Cup."

And what is life like for Max, now that it has returned to being a movie channel? Rajani explains that on 2 July, the day after the IPL finished, the channel started a film initiative Great Pictures Lagaataar (GPL). This is a festival of blockbusters that air from Monday to Friday at 8 pm. Max will also premier films this month like No Smoking and Gandhi My Father.

In terms of the IPL the plan is to do activities with the franchises to keep the brand alive. In a few weeks time Max will sit down with the franchises and discuss initiatives that could be done. This could include specials on the teams, focus on key players etc. There would also be a retrospective on the first season. "People will not sit and wait for the next event that happens next year," notes Rajani.

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