What’s behind the fall in IPL 2021 viewership in the second leg?

The second leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021, the much-trumpeted cricketing extravaganza which began last month in the UAE, has witnessed an abrupt fall in ratings. This is in sharp contrast to the average ratings of the first leg and the previous years. This obviously has the advertisers worried. The viewership of the first two weeks after the resumption of the matches has seen around 15-20% fall in ratings, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India.

While the opening match in 2021 saw 9.7 billion viewing minutes, the opener between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians in 2020 had witnessed 11.2 billion minutes of consumption.

In 2020, IPL matches saw a spike in viewership as people were forced to stay indoors due to the pandemic-induced lockdown. Is the falling viewership a fallout of the second COVID-19 wave wreaking havoc with little signs of ebbing? Should advertisers worry about this drop? What does it mean for the T20 World Cup and other upcoming cricket series and tournaments?

Experts are of the view that the drop in viewership is not altogether unexpected due to various reasons. According to Dr Sandeep Goyal, Managing Director, Rediffusion, IPL viewership has been stressed for a while. He further felt that the truncated tournament took away the sense of continuity.

“Many foreign players did not return to their respective teams. The drop in viewership is not altogether unexpected. In some ways, BCCI and IPL kind of took viewer loyalty for granted. There was not much visible promotion of the current leg of the tournament. Obviously, advertisers who have shelled out top dollar need to be worried. ROI has dropped dramatically,” he opined.

On the other hand, Goyal remarked that the World Cup was a bit different. “Viewership is purely dependent on India’s success. If India is winning, viewership surges. If India loses in the early stages, there are no buyers and no viewers for the game. It has happened before, and can happen again,” he added.

N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research, a consumer insights and brand analytics company, noted that IPL has been going through trouble since the last leg, and added that sporting events in general across the globe have been facing viewer erosion.

With regard to viewership ratings seeing a drop in the second leg of IPL, Chandramouli said, “There is a core audience for IPL and then there are casual viewers. The latter had been increasing over the years, but this audience has been dropping off IPL since the lockdown. At one point IPL was targeting women viewers and even managed to get a good number. But now it is hard to imagine such new audiences sticking to the sport as an avid follower.”

On the role of fatigue in contributing to the low viewership ratings, Chandramouli remarked, “All sporting events are spectator events, and even in normal times low stadium spectator numbers put off TV viewers. So, that is one factor. The other fatigue is, of course, even overdoing a good thing can be harmful.”

Meanwhile, Divya Radhakrishnan, MD, Helios Media, attributed the drop in ratings to the trimester gap. “It’s quite evident given the fact that there was a three-month gap in the series. Any tournament has its cycle of build-up and crescendo, but if this was interrupted with something like the second COVID wave, it is bound to have an impact. Secondly, this session faced a lot of competition with large reality shows being launched, hence a split. IPL ratings have nothing to do with the World Cup. That’s at another level/ league,” she observed.

While agreeing that the overall IPL viewership has dipped, Amita Yakhmi, Associate Vice President - Planning, Carat India, informed, “Andhra Pradesh has shown the highest dip and Tamil Nadu the lowest, although female viewership has kept pace with the male viewership. The reach has slipped to 60% of what the first leg managed. Although the CSK run has managed to get good results in the home markets viewership.”

Yakhmi also attributed the loss of momentum to the three-month-long gap. Regarding the dip in ratings, she said, “This could be due to multiple factors – loss of momentum as the tournament resumed after a gap of three months. Also, there was a surfeit of cricket tournaments back to back… India had three Series (Ind vs Sri Lanka - June, Ind vs Eng -Jul-Aug-Sept). Too much cricket series and tournaments would have resulted in fatigue. Also, the festive season could be another contributor to a slight decline.”

She, however, added that advertisers should not be worried due to the viewership dip, as “it is not without reason we say cricket is a religion in India”.

“The World Cup has a national fervour associated with it. So, the viewership may not be affected so easily. However, we must note that there is a movement of viewership in the digital space as well. So, while TV dips, there is a whole world out there who is holding another device in their hand and has access to cricketing programming in the mobile/ digital ecosystem. Advertisers who swear by cricket will tell you that the kind of reach build-up that cricket is able to deliver is not easily matched by other genres of programming, so I don’t think there is any need to worry about a drop in rating right now,” Yakhmi said.

Chandramouli felt that since advertisers always look at viewer numbers closely, it is bound to have an impact on T20 and other events as well.

While agreeing that there is some fatigue due to which TV viewership has definitely dipped, Yakhmi pointed out, “We do have a cricket calendar round the year, probably that is causing people to not watch cricket on TV… and of course, some of the viewership is on Hotstar. So, yes, there is some fatigue and TV viewership has definitely dipped.”


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