Mumbai: The Nokia Champions League Twenty20 tournament that starts on 19 September in Hyderabad will see the top cricket clubs from various domestic leagues competing with each other. They will include four Indian Premier League (IPL) teams—Royal Challengers Bangalore, Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders. Aloke Malik, managing director, ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd, spoke in an interview about the format and why India’s recent poor performance in cricket won’t have an impact on viewership. Edited excerpts:
Prasar Bharati is going to make a recommendation to the ministry that it be allowed to retain 50% of ad revenue earned on every sports property as opposed to the current 25%. As a broadcaster that has paid substantially for the rights to these events, what is your view?
We will have to take a decision when the time comes, or when that particular piece of legislation comes up for discussion. But the fact of the matter is that as sports broadcasters we pay top dollar for acquiring the best content across the globe.
With DD (Doordarshan, the state-owned television broadcaster run by Prasar Bharti), we expect them to make sure that this is encrypted. When the signals are not encrypted, we have a problem because then other people get to watch the content without paying the content holders the kind of money they have paid to acquire it. It is an infringement of intellectual property rights, and it is something which needs to be taken up and I guess at the right forum it will be taken up. We are already engaged with the ministry, and have been for a long time, over issues related to regulation, which is part of the ongoing dialogue.
Grabbing eyeballs: Malik says India’s recent poor performance in cricket won’t have an impact on viewership. Photo by Hemant Mishra/ Mint.
Do you think India’s recent poor performance in England will have an impact on viewer interest?
I think that our consumption of cricket continues to remain extremely high. As a nation it’s a passion for us. The Indian team’s performance is cyclical. Just like everything else, sometimes we do fantastically well and it works for the crowds, and sometimes we don’t do well, but that doesn’t lead to any flagging in consumer interest or viewership. This is the festive season. ESPN Star Sports has put in a fair bit of money as have our partners. We clearly don’t see any issues with viewership.
A number of players including Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir are injured. Will that make a difference?
The Champions League is about the best of the club sides (in T20) coming together, so there’s enough talent there. There’s enough explosive excitement in the way the tournament is played. There will be no flagging of interest. I see viewership growing. We’ve seen the second edition of the Champions League grow by 35% in ratings and 30% in viewers. This will continue to grow as we build the stature of the tournament. Also, now it’s back in India. I don’t see any reason to feel diffident about the tournament.
Of late, advertisers have been saying that cricket is a property that is volatile, cluttered and expensive. We are seeing advertisers move to other sports.
I don’t see any slowdown in advertiser interest. Cricket is the game of the masses, we consume cricket all through the year. The tournament format ensures that there’s an India match every evening. The timings have been moved from 9 pm last year to 8 pm this year —so it’s the most conducive time for people to watch. I don’t think this is going to impact viewership in any way for cricket.
The Champions League was touted as the next IPL in terms of viewership. However, the property has failed to bring in high TRPs. Where do you see this going from here?
At ESPN Star Sports, we have been committed to bringing the best sporting properties to India and it’s been a long journey over the last 13 years and we will continue to invest in properties such as the Champions League Twenty20. We don’t see any reason to feel that our commitment, or our investments in sports are misplaced. We are here for a long haul.