IPL 2020 was the first sports tournament to surpass 400 billion viewing minutes.
Viveat Susan Pinto reports.
It is a houseful for Star Sports this year after a dull, pandemic-hit 2020.
While cricket will drive the sporting calendar with nine tournaments, the year will be action packed with non-cricketing events as well.
A total of 18 events -- the Indian Premier League, T20 World Cup, World Test Championship, Asia Cup, Formula One, English Premier League, Hero Indian Super League, to name some -- will keep viewers busy.
"It is an interesting year, after a lull calendar in 2020, though the IPL during the festive season last year was a success," says Sanjog Gupta, head of Sports, Star India.
"There is a renewed interest from viewers and advertisers, which is driving up demand for sports content."
Experts agree that pent-up demand for sports is high, putting broadcasters such as Star Sports in a sweet spot.
"Viewers were starved for live sport, which is why the IPL did so well," says Karan Taurani, vice-president, research, Elara Capital.
"As the COVID-19 threat abates, there is normalcy returning to the sporting world and broadcasters such as Star Sports are capitalising on this momentum."
Advertisers are picking up the cues.
The ongoing India-England bilateral series, for instance, has attracted 18 sponsors including gaming and edtech majors such as Dream11 and Byju's, Ceat, Maruti Suzuki, Oppo, Amazon and Mondelez India, among others.
The breadth of categories includes both new-age and traditional advertisers.
Media planners and buyers say that ad rates were up 10-15 per cent for the India-England bilateral series, led in part by Team India's win against Australia at the Brisbane Cricket Ground last month.
IPL could see even more advertiser interest as the T20 tournament moves to its regular springtime schedule.
"You have a number of marketers for whom the summer season is a key period. They will want to advertise at the IPL," Gupta says.
"It has become an important platform for both small and big brands."
Star Sports has three pillars in place: Taking sports content to regional viewers; elevating the consumer experience; and using immersive technology.
"We experimented with virtual reality during the IPL in 2018. It was ahead of its time then. But a lot of these technologies will start becoming mainstream, opening a plethora of opportunities for us," Gupta says.
To improve engagement, Star Sports had put up digital fan walls during the IPL last year, including one in the commentary box.
Selected fans from around the world were part of IPL matches on these fan walls.
Television audiences could hear pre-recorded fan-cheer background scores during the live telecast of matches.
And pre-recorded videos of cheerleaders were flashed across stadia on digital walls.
IPL 2020 was the first sports tournament to surpass 400 billion viewing minutes, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council of India.
It registered 31.57 million average impressions, a big number.
Average impression is viewership per minute.
Since the last edition of IPL, Star Sports has added an incremental 10 per cent subscribers, with the overall penetration of the channel at close to 80 per cent.
That is, eight out of 10 pay TV homes in the country subscribe to Star Sports, says Gupta.
The channel is clearly on a winning wicket this year.