IPL: Brands love it, but it's not blind love

The IPL phenomenon has already spurred media innovations, the eight-edition "mass customisation' of Hindustan Times is just one instance. It has galvanised digital media into demonstrating T20 quickness in capitalising on the worshipful attention of the league's followers. The IPL has also strengthened the link between social media and conventional brand-projection wisdom to a degree that was once unimaginable.

Most TV channels are placing extra offerings before the IPL to seek that all important blessing: the capacity to pull audiences. But there was a fear that cricketainment would eat into the channels' core, seducing viewers away from the channels' original programming.

Adgully asks industry pundits whether the IPL effect can be countered, and if it is desirable, or indeed sensible, to even attempt such a manoeuvre.

DON'T FIGHT IT, FACE IT

Aditya Swamy, MTV India's senior vice-president (sales & marketing), articulates the prevailing media sentiment when he says that there is no point in trying to counter the IPL. "You have to live with it; in fact, you have to ride the wave and cash in on the opportunity," Swamy said. "We have come up with interesting ancillary programming opportunities around the IPL. Such opportunities did not exist in the first two seasons."

Other channels, such as SAB, are holding their programming focus. In fact, Anooj Kapoor, SAB's senior vice-president & business head, goes a step further by disavowing any defensive strategy. "We are not relaxing our thrust on original programming in any way," Kapoor said. "Second, we are going to promote our afternoon repeat shows to make sure that viewers who are unable to tune into our evening shows, because of the IPL, can watch them in the afternoon and still give us the day rating."

While at the ratings, Zee TV is not expecting too much of the dip. In fact, it is business as usual for the channel, whose promoters had introduced India's first T20 league, the Indian Cricket League. "The impact of IPL-2 was far less significant than that of the IPL-1," said the marketing head of Zee TV, Akash Chawla. "Last year, the GECs received a 10-15% rating hit because the IPL event was held after the board exams." Chawla said that the IPL-3 fell plumb bang in the middle of the board exams. "The exams will cause an overall dip in viewership anyway," he said. "In any case, ZEE TV was the least effected channel during the IPL-2. Even this year, we are expecting the dip to be small."

SOME CUSTOMISE, SOME CARRY ON

It is true that the IPL has generated a prodigious buzz, but most channels Adgully spoke to want to keep things in proportion. While SAB pointed out that it was not deploying a defensive strategy, Zee's Chawla pointedly remarked that the IPL was just a month-long event. "We are launching a new show, "Do Saheliyaan' from March 1, on a prime time band, 10:30 pm, Monday to Thursday," Chawla said. Lux Dance India Dance will also enter its interactivity phase with a huge multimedia campaign during that period, Chawla said. "The IPL is just a one-month phenomenon and we don't formulate our strategies on the basis of just one month of a year," he said.

MTV, on the other hand, is among the channels most enthusiastic about banking on the T20 zeitgeist. "Viacom 18 has three content platforms that are unique: Colors, MTV and VH1," Swamy of MTV said. "On the night of the IPL, there was a concert starring Akon, which featured a group of international artistes," Swamy said. "The event was simulcast live on MTV and VH1."

As for the IPL, Swamy said his company had lined up a host of special events for every night of the IPL-3 season. "We throw a post-game party attended by cricketers and Bollywood stars. The parties also feature fashion shows, with leading models and designers."

Swamy said the initiatives had helped in building an interesting consumer connect. "Twenty people can actually enjoy the party. It will involve MTV every day through the IPL-3 season, and Colors every weekend," Swamy said. "Then there is the in-stadium IPL rock star event, judged by Kailash Kher and Sukhwinder Singh. Thus, we have three properties: international entertainment, a party, and music performances. And we look at them as ancillary programming around the IPL."

RATINGS PITCH QUEERED?

Can TV channels answer that question with a straight bat? It appears they can, thanks to India's voracious appetite for TV programming.

"In season 1, nobody knew what kind of animal the IPL was," Swamy said. "During seasons 1 and 2, we had our lead show, Roadies, beaming out side by side with the IPL." Swamy said the show got the highest TRPs in its history last year. "The Roadies finale happened right in the middle of the IPL-2 season," Swamy said. "I think our kind of content has a loyal following. The audiences have been really swayed by the IPL in the GEC segment. We have not been affected by the IPL 1 or 2 in terms of viewership or advertising."

SAB has had a similar experience, Kapoor said. "In fact, during this IPL season, our overall ratings have been much higher than what they were last year," Kapoor said. "Last year, we were at 45, and this year we are already at 90. So we expect to be at 80 to 90 during the IPL-3."

Kapoor said that SAB was expecting to maintain its ratings because it had shows that provided lighthearted entertainment. "Lots of men in our TG like to tune into our shows even during the IPL, so we are confident about holding our ratings."

THE ADVERTISING ANGLE

According to Kapoor, advertisers are keen to invest in the IPL and hence the GECs tend to lose their share. "However, in our case, we are receiving even more advertising ROs during the IPL season this year, because I think advertisers understand that SAB is a channel which will not be affected much by the IPL," Kapoor said. "We are a family-entertainment channel with an equal skew of male and female viewers. In other GECs, women are the prime consumers of daily soaps. And men like to watch the IPL." But he said that a typical SAB-viewing man would not mind switching back to SAB while watching an IPL game.

Moreover, advertising strategy was showing signs of maturity in this IPL season, Swamy said. "In the previous seasons, when Vodafone was with the IPL, Airtel wanted to keep away," Swamy said. "Today, advertisers are acknowledging that the IPL is a big property and that they have to live with it." But he said that the advertisers were also recognising that the IPL was not the be all and end all of life. "So there are many brands on the IPL which are trying to break the clutter," he said. "And there are also brands which are looking beyond the T20 event. In fact, my inventory is full despite the IPL." He said that brands required a young audience and MTV delivered that.

But as far as the IPL was concerned, Swamy said that it represented much more than cricket. "Today people are drawn to the IPL not only because of the game but because it is a wholesome entertainment spectacle," he said. "People love it when Sreesanth launches a break-dance routine, for example!"

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