IPL 2011: Too much action but what about TRPs?

Ten teams, 94 matches, over 280 hours of total playing time – the Indian Premier League will just get bigger next year. But the designated broadcaster is unlikely to jump with joy at the prospect.

The reason for that is IPL’s refusal to extend the period of the tournament beyond 50 days.

Given the fact that a couple of days will have to be left free before and after the semifinals, what that means is that every day of the league will see two matches being played. That in turn means one of the matches will be played during working hours, when viewership on weekdays tends to be significantly lower.

The first edition of IPL in 2008 was conducted over 44 days and involved 59 matches. That allowed a schedule in which most double-headers were during the weekends when viewers could watch matches during the day as well. The 2009 edition was more crunched, with 59 matches being played in 37 days, but that was largely because it had to be shifted to South Africa at the eleventh hour.

The 2010 season will also see action spread over 45 days and 59 matches, which means that like in 2008 most double-headers will be on weekends. On weekdays, with some exceptions, there will be a single match beginning at 8pm, well after working hours for most people. If the 2011 season sticks to a 50-day window, this will no longer be possible. There is, therefore, some talk of pushing the window to 54 days, but the BCCI is firm on 50 days. So, do big numbers always equal big successes? Will the TRPs respond favourably to a greater quantity of cricket?

To give you an idea how concentrated a burst of sporting action IPL4 will involve, the 2010 football World Cup spread over 31 days involves 64 matches. At an hour-and-a-half per match that translates to 96 hours of playing time. Even if you add on extra time and shootouts in some of the knockout stage matches, it would still be a fraction of the over 280 hours of cricket you’ll get to see over a month-and-a-half in 2011.

There are apprehensions that the law of diminishing returns might kick in with such a concentrated dose. “To deliver similar average TRPs like in the inaugural season, the IPL management will have to generate the same level of interest as they did the first time. For that, supply mustn’t outdo the demand for such a sporting event,” analyses an industry insider.

Where the inclusion of new teams and the consequent increase in matches is concerned, two contradictory interests are at work. On the one hand, just two more teams in IPL has meant that the IPL gets Rs 550 crore from broadcast rights compared to Rs 335 crore paid for the last IPL season as well as the forthcoming one. With money from the telecast rights being distributed on an 80:20 basis between the franchisees and BCCI, it is easy to see why this seems very tempting. There is also the minimum of $225 million per team that two new franchisees will pay IPL over a nine-year period. On the one hand, a section of the BCCI fears that over-exposure could lead to falling TRPs for the IPL, which would in turn affect the broadcaster’s viability and hence the money that is likely to be bid for future telecasting rights.

Apprehensions about falling TRPs are not based on the prospect of over-exposure alone. The IPL also proposes to set a cap on the number of matches players from the Indian team can play in the tournament. While the BCCI argues that this presents a perfect opportunity for lesser known Indian stars to show their talents, the fear is that it could rob some matches of their star appeal.

Sony, the official broadcaster for IPL, however, maintains that such doomsday scenarios are premature. “It’s too early to make definite projections. Everything is conjecture. It’s still unclear, but a bigger platform for such Twenty20 cricket is a good idea,” a top official from Sony said on condition of anonymity. “If IPL was, in fact, to get bigger, advertisers could perhaps pick and chose their matches. In such a scenario, the demand and supply balance should remain equal, though to achieve this balance could be a tricky thing,” added the source.

In the event that Sony doesn’t make requisite profits from IPL, the party that stands to lose the most are the owners of the 10 teams in the long run. After all, 80% of TV revenue goes to the franchises while just 20% is for BCCI coffers.

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