Indian Premier League loses global viewership

The global television audience for the 2009 Indian Premier League (IPL) was markedly down on the heights achieved during the inaugural season, according to a report published in London.

A Viewertrack report published by the independent global sports consultancy Futures Sport+Entertainment shows an average 20 percent fall in viewership across five major cricket-playing countries — India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain.

Taken individually, the only exception was South Africa where audiences grew by more than 80 percent on account of the country hosting the IPL this year following the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008. There was a fall in the other four markets.

In terms of market share, India registered a massive 96 percent for both the 2008 and 2009 seasons, while South Africa’s share rose from two to three percent.

But Australia’s share shrank from two to one percent after a switch from free-to-air to pay TV, and for the second year running audiences in England and New Zealand remained so small they accounted for zero percent when rounded to the nearest percentage point.

“In a sense, this is of course not something that needs to worry (IPL Chairman) Lalit Modi or the BCCI,” said Kevin Alavy, Head of Analytics at Future Sports+Entertainment.

“The key message is that the IPL has been a fantastic commercial and sporting success. And India itself is such a huge market that there isn’t necessarily the need to be a success outside India,” Alavy told IANS Wednesday.

“Other markets have acknowledged that the Indian market remains the centre of the cricketing world.”

However, the report points out that major opportunities exist in markets outside India to tap into Twenty20 television audiences, with the implicit suggestion that if the IPL doesn’t move in, there are other potential rivals waiting in the wings.

The report points to four reasons for the decline in IPL’s global viewership:

* Hosting the 2009 championship away from India;
* The Australian market switching from free-to-air Network Ten channel in 2008 to the ONE HD channel in 2009;
* Potential audience fatigue after the novelty of the first season; and
* The difficulty of sustaining interest across 59 matches played over five weeks.

The report says the fact that the IPL has managed to achieve such a small audience share outside India so far means there is room for strong growth, pointing to press discussion about potential rivals such as P20 (Britain) and the Southern Premier League (South Africa, Australia and New Zealand).

“There is substantial scope for growth in the international popularity of the format, and consequently in the revenues that could accrue to all relevant parties,” it says.

“Having a format that is relevant and compelling is critical, and the relatively small TV audiences drawn by the IPL in international markets suggests that the IPL has not yet cracked the formula for attracting fans the world over.”

Patriotism could be a significant factor: it may not be IPL that cricket fans are watching, but audiences around the world do tend to watch a lot of domestic Twenty20 cricket on TV, drawn by local cricketing heroes and local clubs.

Similarly, the doubling of South African viewers of IPL in 2009 occurred because the matches were taking place in South Africa.

Alavy said cricket fans in Australia and Britain watched the recent World Twenty20 Cup more than the IPL.

“Hence a big challenge for IPL will be how to build an international supporter base, with fans feeling an allegiance to particular franchises, rather than merely their favourite players,” the reports said.

It said the IPL’s decision to grant British TV rights to Setanta, rather than a dominant platform such as BSkyB meant that the audience size in Britain was always going to be “severely limited.”

Setanta achieved only 1.2 million paying subscribers at its peak out of a total of more than 26 million households in Britain.

The report suggests that the IPL can make inroads into the lucrative British (mainly English) market through a mixture of choosing a better TV channel; creating awareness about the IPL among fans; giving fans reasons to support a franchise; and highlighting “local heroes” such as Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff.

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