Sanjog Gupta, Head of Sports at Star India, talks about overcoming initial apprehensions to pull off a successful Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 during the pandemic.
Looking back, how successful was the IPL?
It was a record-breaking IPL. Success is relative but I think what we managed to achieve is pretty significant given the challenges we were up against. It was the biggest IPL ever in terms of consumption. And doing this while battling the situation with the pandemic, operating within the bio-secure bubble, working against all kinds of constraints, both in terms of logistics as well as in terms of access, and having everyone return safely. It is definitely a success as we see it.
Overall there was a 23 percent increase in viewership, which is TV only and does not include OTT platforms. These are BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) numbers of television viewership across the 60 matches in the tournament.
Before the IPL started what were the expectations? Also people were starved of live sporting action so did that also help?
When Jay Shah (BCCI secretary), Sourav Ganguly (president) and Arun Dhumal (treasurer) came together to announce that the IPL would happen and would be staged in the UAE, there were obviously associated complications that needed to be solved. Especially, given the context of the early setback when we had players in the CSK camp (testing positive for Covid-19). But still the tournament was hosted successfully. I think the first thing was, can we even have the tournament and how viable is the tournament?
The second challenge was around what the tournament would look like and how it would happen given the sheer number of constraints we are working with. For example, this is perhaps the first truly global sporting event to happen. While, obviously, there is the Premier League, NBA and there have been other sporting events in South East Asia, none of those events had participation of players, match officials and crew from as many countries as this tournament did.
This was going to be the first event of a global nature happening in the times of a global crisis. That presented a unique challenge about how to get everyone together and how to ensure they are safe within this bio-secure bubble. You also needed to build all kinds of contingency plans.
The third expectation was of offering viewers, who were starved for live cricket, an experience that was as good if not better than previous editions of the IPL. The last thing we wanted to do was for an eagerly anticipating audience to tune in and feel that this IPL is not fun to watch. That is what we were most worried and concerned about. You don’t want fans of the game, who are seeking joy and happiness and an evening of relaxation, to tune in and feel that the IPL is a let down. The third part was to design the viewing experience and the fan experience in a way that actually it seems that it is enhanced over the previous years.
What about advertisement rates for the 2020 season?
The ad inventory for Dream 11 IPL Twenty20 was sold out before a single ball was bowled. We had 114 advertisers and 18 sponsors, which is the highest ever. This makes this season of the IPL, the biggest in terms of advertiser interest and revenue. The ad rate is up by 20 to 25 per cent from 2019.
There is likely to be another IPL in four to five months. This time you had the festival season around the corner but do you think consumer sentiment will remain high when the next IPL starts say in March or April?
Four months back when the prospect of having an IPL in September-October-November actually became real, the general sentiment was the economy is in such a turmoil that ad spends will be really muted and it will be very difficult for Star to attract the kind of revenue that we finally did. Now after the tournament is over, in hindsight, we are talking about the festival season. A couple of months before the IPL, it seemed the situation was much more bleak than it eventually turned out to be. The way to look at it (the next IPL) is that it is still four months away, the economy is showing signs of recovery and I think ultimately, IPL is a really strong brand and is a must-have in most advertisers portfolio for the year. This is a conversation we must have closer to the IPL, because it is perhaps a bit too early for us to be speculating what the sentiment will be. But we continue to believe in the power of the IPL brand.
This year there were fantasy leagues and e-learning companies which seemed to have advertised a lot. What was the percentage of ad revenue from these two segments?
Every year there are a few categories that are contextualy relevant, and believe that it is their moment. A testament to the IPL brand is that it is a launch pad for new brands and for brands that are looking to go into the next wave of growth. In the past we have seen it with e-commerce, we have seen it with travel portals at one point. Very often there is a new category that gets added, which really boosts the demand for IPL. For a brand which wants to reach hundreds of millions of viewers, there isn’t any other property that gives them the same value that the IPL does.
Regional viewership was up by 28 per cent on television. Which are the regions where growth has been high?
The regional viewership is calculated not on the basis on channels but what happens in a state. You could potentially have a Tamil viewer, a Hindi viewer and an English viewer in the same state. The states that saw the maximum growth were actually Tamil Nadu, Kerala and in Hindi speaking markets it was Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar The English feed/world feed was watched in Kerala.
Will you be adding more regional telecasts?
There are two aspects we look at before adding any regional feed to any property. One is of course the property and its affinity to any market. For example, a property like the Indian Super League (ISL) has a Malayalam feed because the following for football in Kerala is significant. But we didn’t have a Malayalam feed for the IPL. The second thing that we look at is the potential growth in that region. For example, in 2018 we decided to add Tamil, Telugu and Kannada feeds to the IPL offering because we felt and data showed that viewership in these markets were lower than the India average for the IPL. We beleived that one way of pushing that up would be by offering the same property with a regional twist. Tomorrow if we feel a regional feed can fuel potential growth in that region, then we are always open to adding that regional feed.