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Second wave hits IPL viewership

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Cumulative reach has declined by about 9.5% from 116 million per match in 2020 to 105 million per match this year.Cumulative reach has declined by about 9.5% from 116 million per match in 2020 to 105 million per match this year.Cumulative reach has declined by about 9.5% from 116 million per match in 2020 to 105 million per match this year.

IPL 2021, which began on April 9, has seen four players withdraw from the tournament and two umpires return home. The annual media spectacle has found itself in the middle of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India.

The uncertain circumstances under which the league is being held is likely to be impacting its viewership, and advertisers are getting jittery over their investments behind it, say industry insiders.

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According to Barc India, the first 17 matches of IPL 2021 have registered 6.62 billion viewing minutes per match. In comparison, the first 14 matches last year garnered 8.34 billion viewing minutes per match. Cumulative reach has declined by about 9.5% from 116 million per match in 2020 to 105 million per match this year.

The opening match in 2021 clocked 9.7 billion viewing minutes as per Star India, while last year’s opener between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians drew 11.2 billion minutes of consumption.

“The tournament has not opened very well this year and viewership rating for the opening week was about 15-16% lower than last year,” informs B Krishna Rao, senior category head, marketing, Parle Products. There has been a similar dip in the viewership of the league on Disney+Hotstar too, says Manika Juneja, EVP operations (West & South), WATConsult. She said the IPL 2021 opener peaked at 6.7 million viewers on the OTT platform this year as opposed to 8.4 million viewers in 2020.

Ad inventory of a media property such as IPL is sold much in advance, with a large chunk of the inventory being taken up by sponsors. “Most of the inventory for IPL was sold out this year and advertisers were locked in by March 2021,” says Vasudha Dawar, V-P, Carat India. A 10-second slot was for about `12-13 lakh. Since advertiser money is locked in, if this declining trend continues and the broadcaster is not able to match the outcomes initially promised, brands could seek freebies and additional inventory.

Brands that are not sponsors of the league are turning cautious with their media spends on IPL. “Retail brands in the non-essential category and those that are not backed by VC funding are pulling back spends on IPL as their sales activities are dependent on local curbs. The league is not looking as exciting as it did before it began. A 10-12% dip can be expected in media investments on Disney+Hotstar,” says Juneja.

Star India, the official broadcaster, began telecasting matches on Star Plus live on Sundays alone from week two of the league. Industry analysts say that as of now this additional feed is not bringing in significant extra viewership. Therefore, ad inventory on Star Plus is not yet being sold separately to advertisers. As of now, the extra feed is a bonus of sorts for those advertisers running ads on IPL.

With entertainment hub Maharashtra extending the lockdown to May 15, Star Plus, a Hindi GEC, may have no fresh content to air in the short term. “The broadcaster could telecast the matches on Star Plus on all days of the week and turn that into a new revenue stream,” opines Sandeep Goyal, founder, Mogae Media.

As per ESP Properties, in 2020, media spending on sporting events declined by 30% year-on-year to `3,657 crore. Cricket, the sport that attracts the most sponsorships, saw them drop from `1,290 crore in 2019 to `1,069 crore in 2020. The industry has been hoping to recover its losses in 2021. Star Sports, which is estimated to have earned about `2,800 crore from IPL 2020, is targeting an ad revenue of `3,200-3,300 crore this year.

According to social media listening firm Talkwalker, social media conversations around IPL and Covid-19 have quadrupled in the last seven days compared with the first week of the league.

BCCI’s decision to continue with the tournament has drawn criticism and is driving much of the negative sentiment around the event.

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