Mumbai: Don’t be surprised if the characters on your prime time television shows suddenly suffer major setbacks, find offspring they never thought existed, introduce celebrity guests as part of their schedule or start promoting their stories in the media. With all the marketing buzz surrounding the Indian Premier League (IPL), general entertainment channels are pulling out all stops to ensure they don’t lose prime time audience to the celebrity-laden IPL.
The Twenty20 cricket series will kick off on 18 April and will have 59 matches in all, that will be played 4pm onward. The last match each day will start at 8pm. While 4-6pm is a crucial time band for music and kids channels, between 9pm and 11pm, it will be prime time for general entertainment channels such as Star Plus, Zee TV, NDTV Imagine, 9X and Sony Entertainment Television (SET), the channel on which IPL matches will be telecast.
“In a country of single television households, there will be a fight for eyeballs. It (IPL) will take viewership away from other genres such as general entertainment, kids and music,” says Nina Elavia Jaipuria, vice-president and general manager, Nickelodeon India. “However with a shorter (match) format, the impact is likely to be less severe.”
Typically, the second quarter of a calendar year starting April is important for channels as it coincides with summer vacations. It is also the peak season for advertising as media buying agencies are flushed with fresh funds in the beginning of the new fiscal year. This period is also an important for categories such as cold beverages and ice creams.
No surprise, then, that most channels are launching new and big-budget shows to keep their audience from fleeing. Some channels have roped in celebrities to take on IPL. For instance, Star India Pvt. Ltd is all set to launch a game show, Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain? with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). The show will run on its market leading Hindi general entertainment channel Star Plus. Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd has already launched Rock-N-Roll Family with actors Ajay Devgan and Kajol, and INX Media Pvt. Ltd will launch Chak De Bachche, another talent hunt show.
The three channels are already promoting these shows heavily on their own networks as well as radio, outdoors and in various newspapers in the hope of fencing off audience. IPL, too, is being promoted across different media platforms by both the Board of Control for Cricket in India as well as individual teams.
Cricket matches telecast during prime time have mostly eaten into the viewership share of other channels. The recent ICC World Twenty20 championship in 2007 had proved to be clincher for ESPN and Star Cricket, the two channels on which the event was telecast. A media release from ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd, said the channels had grossed an average of 21.4 TVR (television rating) during the IndiaPakistan ICC World Twenty20 final, and the viewership of Star Plus, SET and Zee TV had simultaneously dropped.
Some broadcasters, however, seem unfazed by the hoopla around IPL. “While IPL will get some initial sampling, it is unlikely that audience will give up soaps they have been watching for years,” says Star India chief executive Uday Shankar.
Arguing that content would be the determining factor eventually, he says: “If marketing spends and promotions alone were a key to success, everyone would succeed.” Yet, some of his own colleagues admit the channel is taking the threat from IPL quite seriously. “The very fact that the campaign (for SRK’s new show) is out there long before the launch of the show is evidence that we (Star) recognize the importance of doing it…,” said a senior Star official not wanting to be identified. “If we know a rival channel is going to launch a big property, you can be assured that our programming heads will not wait to be swamped.”
Advertisers on general entertainment channels, however, are keeping their fingers crossed. While brands such as Vodafone, Hyundai, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Hero Honda and DLF have already bet big monies on IPL, the regular advertisers on general entertainment channels say they are not sure of audience response to IPL. While some said there will definitely be some amount of sampling of IPL matches initially, others were not sure if the matches will be able to sustain audience interest. “There is likely to be a temporary shift of ad spends to commensurate the shift in eyeballs. But at no point will we abandon any of the other channels,” says Harit Nagpal, marketing director, Vodafone.
“The proof of the pudding will be known on 18 April. But...consumers will definitely have a field da,” says Gowthaman Ragothaman, MD—South Asia, Mindshare, a media buying agency.