Indian sports viewership rides on expensive cricketing properties

The genre gets low ad volume despite a high viewership.

MUMBAI: In the media industry, the saying goes that if there is viewership, there are advertisements. However, this doesn't seem to be the case for the sports genre, if one were to go by BARC India's 2019 annual report. It mentions that sports as a segment has grown nearly 90 per cent in viewership in the last four years, but advertisement volumes are stagnant at one per cent during the same period. 

Experts say cricket being the only most-watched sport in India along with expensive cricketing properties such as the Indian Premier League is the reason for the fewer ad volumes.

Digitalkites senior vice-president Amit Lall says, “Unlike cricket and non-cricket sports category, India’s biggest domestic sporting event – Indian Premier League – has changed the whole ball game of the target audience. Sports which was seen as a male-target-audience-genre has now included a person of different age, gender, and class as their viewers due to the increasing popularity of IPL. Majority of brands are investing in cricket, especially in IPL. However, due to the massive viewership, the costing in IPL has gone up and brands with deep pockets are looking to leverage the other non-cricketing sports properties."

A recent BARC report also mentioned that the female viewership in the sports genre has seen an 8 per cent rise, eating out of the forte of  Hindi GEC. As per an earlier BARC India data, sports genre's women viewership had 17.6 billion impressions in 2018 while the viewership grew by eight per cent to 19.1 in 2019.

Despite all the data, cricket still leads. Lall says, “The co-sponsorship title of IPL which earlier could be bought for Rs 5 crore, is now sold for Rs 40-50 crore. However, the same co-sponsorship title in non-cricket property could be bought at just one-fourth the rate of IPL. The eyeballs on this property could be less but it will have maximum visibility if the target audience is bang-on.”

Dentsu Aegis Network India chief executive officer Anand Bhadkamkar agrees that Indian sports is run mainly because of the popularity of cricket. "Advertisers are comfortable with cricket as there is sure-shot reach and returns. Naturally, spends done on cricket is high as compared to non-cricket properties due to its massive viewership.”  

All said and done, the IPL has a lot working in its favour. Havas Media’s chief executive officer Anita Nayyar says: “Acquisition cost is higher in cricket, especially in IPL, as the tournament garners maximum eyeballs. IPL eats up 60-70 per cent sports ad spends of a brand. The cost that was Rs 5-6 lakh per 10 seconds in IPL has gone up to the Rs 8-10 lakh per 10 seconds, just because of the viewership rise of the tournament.”

Judging by what the channel said, IPL 2019 saw a total reach of over 462 million across the Star network.

However, despite an increase in viewership, sports other than cricket have hurdles. Nayyar adds, “Unlike cricket, which is watched pan-India, the other sports properties that are getting traction eventually are more regional in nature. Such as kabaddi is more of the north, football has keen enthusiasts in Kerala, West Bengal, and the Northeast region. These properties see the participation of regional advertisers and are reasonable as compared to pan-India-watched sports.”

“A sports property like IPL is most-watched but has high costing, whereas a non-cricket sports property with meagre viewership has reasonable price and could be one of the reasons for the stagnant ad volumes in sports that BARC has mentioned in its 2019 report,” explains Nayyar.

Bhadkamkar adds that apart from viewership on television, non-cricketing brands are indulging in non-traditional methods for promotion such as on-ground initiative, activations, etc. Moreover, apart from traditional sports, e-sports has become the talk of the town and brands do want to leverage it, too. Pro Kabaddi League is one of the non-cricketing sports that has been leveraging on-ground activations over traditional modes. 

Unlike event-specific genres such as sports, the top three genres such as news, GECs and movies continue to account for over three-fourth of the total ad volumes in 2019, says the BARC 2019 viewership report.

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