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Twenty-20 ways to beat the slowdown!

May 7, 2009 13:42 IST

Twenty-20 ways to beat the slowdown!

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Text: Surajeet Das Gupta

Cricket may be the game of glorious uncertainties, but as far as the advertising industry is concerned, it seems to be the game of glorious certainties.

With crowds continuing to flock in to watch the second season of IPL, to their TV sets if not to the stadiums in far-away South Africa, advertising for cricket continues to pick up in sharp contrast to other advertising which is falling.

Believe it or not, the stage is even set for a hike in ad-rates for cricket-related shows, again something unheard of at a time when all media are discounting ad-rates for even the best of their shows. And yes, saas-bahu serials are passe, as are talent contests.

Additional inputs: Ashish Sinha

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Image: Sachin Tendulkar in full flow at an IPL cricket march in South Africa.
Photographs: Reuters
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For the last 18 days and the another 232 days during the year, the only thing you're going to hear advertisers talk of is cricket shows/properties: Last ball ka captain, Kaun dega prize, Connect with your stars, Meal khao South Africa jaao, and so on.

According to media-planners, with 250 days of cricket on television this year, the share of cricket-related advertising is likely to double. After the IPL, there's the Twenty-20 World Cup in London and then the Champions Trophy -- all told, these big tournaments will ensure cricket grabs around a fifth or more of the television advertising pie of Rs 8,000-odd crore (Rs 80 billion).

That's virtually double the proportion from last year when, of the Rs 7,200-crore (Rs 72 billion) advertisements, around Rs 700 crore (Rs 7 billion) were cricket-related.

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Image: Chennai Super Kings cheerleaders before the start of an IPL T20 cricket tournament.
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In 2007, when IPL wasn't around, the figure was around 7 per cent of a total advertising of around Rs 6,500 crore (Rs 65 billion) on television.

Apart from the huge reach cricket has -- viewership for the 21st to the 24th matches in South Africa exceeded 155 million as compared to 129 million in the same season last year (see graphic). No other programme has anywhere near the same reach.

And, given the time taken for each match, and the total inventory of prime-time space that cricket offers, it's not surprising cricket is a natural winner -- the 59-match IPL-2, for instance, has 100-120 prime-time slots of 30 seconds each on a daily basis as compared to around 70-80 in the top five or six general entertainment channels.

That is, cricket accounts for around 60 per cent of the daily prime-time spots available during the season.

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Image: How cricket ratings on TV and the advertisement pie for cricket has grown.
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As for the length of the season, it's gone up from around 150-175 days in a year, three years ago, to around 250 days now.

Two years ago there was no IPL or 36 days of cricket in a year, three years ago there was no Twenty-20 World Cup. And since the Champions Trophy was postponed in 2008, this has added to the overall inventory in 2009.

Which is why telecom giants Airtel and Vodafone, consumer electronics' majors Samsung and LG, and beverage rivals CocaCola and Pepsi are jostling for IPL-space on TV.

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Image: Bangalore Royal Challengers dancers entertain fans during the 2009 Indian Premier League T20 cricket tournament between the Mumbai Indians and the Bangalore Royal Challengers.
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How hard the jostling is can be seen from the fact that about 80 per cent of the IPL TV-inventory was booked by the big boys of the business before the tournament began.

Indeed, even companies that were not into cricket advertising -- electric switch manufacturing firm Havells, for instance, has just started advertising on cricket and plans to spend Rs 25 crore this year on IPL TV-advertising.

According to the TAM ratings for the week ending April 25, six of the top 10 shows were all IPL matches, with ratings ranging from 3.96 to 4.91 -- the closest the general entertainment programmes got was 3.94.

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Image: Cricket fans look on during the 2009 Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket tournament between the Chennai Super Kings and the Delhi Daredevils at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.
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During this period, the channel with the highest TV Viewership Ratings (TVRs) across all TV-homes was SET Max which airs the IPL matches. According to aMap, another TV-rating, the total number of viewers watching IPL-2 is up by 21 per cent as compared to IPL-1.

Not surprisingly, SET Max has already made Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) from IPL advertising; and though the tournament will be a lot shorter, ESPN Star Sports hopes to make around Rs 250 crore (Rs 2.5 billion) from the Twenty20 World Cup in June.

The big question is where does cricket-advertising go from here? It seems difficult to see how more than 250 days of cricket can be achieved, especially since monopolists like the BCCI are squeezing rivals like the Indian Cricket League out of existence.

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Image: A cricket fan waves an Indian national flag during the 2009 Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket tournament.
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The fact that IPL's organisers chose to take the tournament abroad when the government said the security needs of the elections would not allow it to provide similar cover for IPL is a sign of just how full the cricket calendar is -- had the organizers kept IPL in India, the earliest it could have had the tournament was in the next season thanks to the conflicting calendars of top cricketers.

Sports broadcasters say the only option is to charge a premium on the advertising time. A bigger premium, that is, compared to what's already being charged.

SET Max already charges a premium of 23 per cent on spot rates of 10 seconds for IPL-2 -- it charges Rs 4 lakh (Rs 400,000) for a 10-second spot as compared to Rs 3.25 lakh (Rs 325,000) last year.

Looked at another way, the cost per rating point (CPRP) for cricket -- the amount spent by a company to reach one per cent of its target group -- has already gone up three times in the last 18 months, from Rs 16,000 earlier to a staggering Rs 47,000 currently.

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Image: Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (L) makes a run with Suresh Raina during their 2009 Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket tournament against the Rajasthan Royals in Centurion.
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During the same period, the CPRP of general entertainment channels have fallen 20-30 per cent as the fragmentation of channels and viewers has resulted in rates coming down.

There's an important downside to all this though. If the Indian team's winning streak gets halted, it's an open question as to whether viewer interest will remain. In which case, the advertiser has to shift as well.

For now, with the IPL fever and the World Cup approaching, no one's talking of this possibility. If Amitabh Bachchan had hundreds of crore of film-money riding on him in the earlier days, that burden rests of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's shoulders today.

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Image: Bollywood stars Shilpa Shetty, Preity Zinta and ShahRukh Khan (L-R) confer during a news conference of the Indian Premier League T20 cricket tournament in Cape Town.
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