When the hosts do well at a cricket World Cup, the scenario is usually a broadcaster’s dream. There is a buzz in the country, people tune in to every forecast and the general mood is one of celebration.
With Rohit Sharma’s India side on an eight-match unbeaten streak and going from strength to strength with every match, the ODI World Cup has been hitting new viewership peaks.
On the digital front, the India-Pakistan match first created a record of 35 million peak concurrent views, only to be bettered by the India-New Zealand match (43 million) and subsequently by the India-South Africa game (44 million). The last high came when Virat Kohli equalled Sachin Tendulkar’s record for ODI hundreds at Kolkata. Great news, right?
But the broadcasters have not been all smiles. Why?
Because the Indian team has just been too dominant. So much so that their bowlers have been dismissing the opposition in a mere 27.1 overs on an average, while defending totals. From a cricketing standpoint, it can’t get better. But from a business point of view, it’s not all good.
The quick finishes translate to a shortfall of as many as 22.5 overs of advertising inventory. That’s so far as India’s last three league matches go. In the first five matches, India batted first on every occasion and chased down targets in 39 overs on an average. It accounts for another 11 overs of inventory shortfall.
“In a regular 50 overs match, you are looking at anything between 7000-7500 seconds of advertising time. If a match closes early constantly, it’s a straight inventory loss and resultantly a revenue loss for the broadcaster,” says Sandeep Goyal, Managing Director, Rediffusion.
With most contracts, the advertising spot has to be used up during a live match. This is why, as a match approaches a premature close, a viewer is bombarded with ads the very second an over ends. The post-match programming, even when an India win is the point of discussion, sees a significant drop in viewership.
“Even though the broadcasters have come up with flexi options which include an India and non-India match package, it’s not possible to off-set losses from India matches because they are three times more expensive,” an industry expert said. A significant chunk of broadcast returns still come from TV and premium India matches have reportedly been sold at TV ad rates of ₹30 lakhs per seconds.
India’s stellar show and resulting curtailed matches is a trend that began from the Asia Cup in September. Disney Star were broadcasting that event too and lost out on a lot of advertising time as opposing teams struggled to compete with India.
The rain-affected tournament saw one India-Pakistan league match ending without a result. In two other matches where India batted second, including the final, opposition were bowled out in 31.7 overs on average and the batters chased targets down in 13.1 overs on an average – a collective loss of more than 50 percent of advertising inventory. Even when India batted first, opposing batters would be all-out on an average in 41 overs.
If it was Mohammed Siraj who created havoc in the Asia Cup, Mohammed Shami has been the wrecker-in-chief in the World Cup. Combining with spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, India’s pacemen and spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav have left the opposition hapless; sometimes, to the detriment of the stakeholders.
In the World Cup, there have been a number of lopsided non-India matches too. Making these non-India matches work, in-stadia and on-air, commercially, was one of International Cricket Council’s (ICC) stated objectives in their internal notes, at the start of the tournament. But many of these matches are sold in bulk and are not primary revenue generators for the broadcasters.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
“It’s important to keep perspective that the broadcasters would rather have the Indian team doing very well and bear some revenue shortfall than have them struggle to make the knockouts,” says another industry executive.
The lessons from the 2007 World Cup are fresh in the memory for all those who were in the thick of action at the time, and left high and dry after India’s early exit. The Rahul Dravid-led side that had left the Indian shores with much fanfare suffered a shock-loss against Bangladesh and another defeat to Sri Lanka, exiting the 47-day tournament in ten days.
“The agency I was with had underwritten the World Cup for ₹500 crores which was a lot of money at the time. After India were knocked out early, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation had to step in when advertisers wanted out,” recalls Goyal. Many of the brand campaigns centered around India players had to be taken off air. Ultimately, the two-month long tournament proved to be a damp squib, minus India interest.
Despite facing criticism, the International Cricket Council (ICC) never reverted to the 16-team three-layered format (including Super Eights), where top teams stood the risk of facing an early exit, should they slip up.
Disney Star did not respond to queries on unsold inventory. Citing data from BARC, the official broadcasters said they registered a 10 per cent increase in total watch time for live broadcast, from the 2019 edition.