The 2018 season of the Indian Premier League has so far produced more last-over thrillers than usual. But the late finishes, with matches ending on average between 11.55 pm and midnight, have an unusual consequence. That many television sets are turned off across the country in the last hour despite nail-biting finishes.
The trend has Star India, in their first season as official broadcasters for the IPL, coping with a major dip in TRPs post-11 pm. Star India managing director Sanjay Gupta told The Indian Express that there was a nearly 40-50 per cent dip in that period.
The first IPL outing for Star, which bought the broadcast rights for Rs 16,347.5 crore last year, has been successful, with numbers suggesting a spike in viewership from last season. But the steep decline in viewership towards the business end of most matches has strengthened their view that the IPL would be better off if matches would start an hour earlier, like the playoffs next week.
“The drop starts at 10.45 pm to about 25 per cent and then it increased progressively. The last half hour in a normal match should be your highest number of viewers. If you compare it to what you call an opportunity cost, the gap could be as high as 50 per cent. Most of small-town India and a large part of urban India start sleeping around 11-11.30 pm. Even entertainment programs peak before 10 pm and dip thereafter,” Gupta said.
The introduction of the Umpire Decision Review System (DRS) this season has only extended the length of matches. Though Gupta lauded the introduction of technology to the most high-profile T20 league in the world, the extra 15-20 minutes added to the duration has also impacted ratings.
“Until last year, the matches used to finish at 11.20-11.25 pm on average. This year, after the introduction of DRS, it takes a lot longer. Roughly the matches are ending half-hour later at around 11.55 pm to midnight broadly. We think there will be a dramatic increase in people who will be available from 7-11 pm as compared to 8 pm to midnight just because of that last one hour,” he said.
Though the figures so far show a significant dip, a closer look suggests that viewership curves seem to depend on how close the games are compared to the time they finish. Indian viewers don’t seem thrilled with low-scoring matches, which are potential thrillers. Instead, they seem to prefer big scores.
Not many people seemed to have tuned off on two occasions when Chennai Super Kings chased down totals of over 200, against the Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore, in the last over. But a sizable number did when Rajasthan Royals chased down 168 against Mumbai Indians, despite this match too going into the last over and being equally close. A one-sided contest like the Delhi Daredevils vs KKR where the hosts won at a canter though shows a severe dip in ratings.
Despite the late finishes, the post-show ratings, Star officials say, have gone up by around 40-42 per cent compared to the previous year. According to Star, those who stay on their channel post 11.30 pm tend to be cricket viewers rather than just casual ones and generally tend to stay on for the post-match discussions.
The extended duration of matches this IPL does not seem to have made a big difference in terms of advertising. Gupta said that the ad spots were similar to those witnessed during the ICC Champions Trophy and World T20 that were broadcast by Star in preceding years.
Star had approached the BCCI with the idea of advancing the start time by an hour even before the IPL began. But as IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla told The Indian Express last week, some of the franchises were not so keen and had said that the “stadium does not fill at 7 pm”.
Gupta also said that access to other media had helped ratings. “We’ve seen a steep increase in mobile consumption from 8 pm to 9.30 pm, which means people are watching the action on their phones while traveling even if they are not home. The highest peak, in this case, is seen around the end of the first innings. If matches finish at 10.45-11 pm, they are not coming in the way of the natural challenges that viewers face,” he said.
Star expects next week’s playoff matches, which start earlier, are a crucial indicator with Gupta expecting a substantial increase in viewership. “If we’d gone for 7 pm starts from the beginning, we could have had a growth of another 7-8 per cent in the total viewership and gone up to a 48 or 49 per cent increase overall. That’s the power of that last one hour.”