Mumbai: Almost everyone in India loves cricket. And political parties, the newest set of advertisers looking to reach large swathes of the public before election day, know that season 2 of the Indian Premier League, or IPL, could deliver what other media properties can only dream of—audiences that cut across regions, demographics and social and economic backgrounds.
No wonder then that political parties and official IPL broadcaster MAX—a channel from Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd—are likely to request IPL’s governing council to allow political advertising during matches.
With dates for the general elections (16 April-13 May) and season 2 of the IPL T20 tournament (10 April-24 May) overlapping, a number of political parties are concerned about having to compete with cricket for attention. More specifically with the IPL, which attracted nearly two billion eyeballs in its inaugural season, according to IPL figures.
Evolving platform: A file photo of a season 1 IPL match between Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils. Manvender Vashist / PTI
“An effort is being made (to get the IPL governing council to change its mind on political advertising during matches),” says Ranjan Bargotra, president of Crayons Advertising Ltd, which is in charge of the advertising and marketing strategy for the Congress party. “We strongly recommend IPL…however, if things don’t work out, then what is available to one party, is available to all. So in that sense, it is a level playing field.”
A decision to ban political ads during the telecast of IPL matches was taken unanimously by the league’s governing council during last month’s player auction in Goa, said Rajeev Shukla, a Congress MP and member of the council. He is also the co-founder of BAG Films and Media Ltd, which owns News 24, a Hindi news channel.
IPL officials didn’t specify a reason for the ban. In line with the governing council’s decision, the broadcaster MAX was barred from accepting any political advertising during IPL matches. Even IPL teams were instructed not to accept any sponsorship from political parties, which means that there will be no in-stadium branding or communication either.
The other members of the IPL governing council include the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Arun Jaitley, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Chirayu Ameen, I.S. Bindra, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and Lalit Modi.
“Certainly, there is a tremendous interest (from political parties). We’re waiting for the final (IPL) schedule and once that’s sorted we will take on the other points,” says Sneha Rajani, executive vice-president and business head, MAX.
If political ads are allowed during the IPL, it could prove to be a windfall for the broadcaster and worrisome for news channels, experts say. Media buyers say that a modest estimate pegs ad spending by political parties at at least Rs1,000 crore this year.
“Of the total (ad) spends by political parties on television, up to 70% is on news channels,” says Sejal Shah, vice-president, India Media Exchange, the centralized media buying unit for the Starcom MediaVest Group and Zenith Optimedia.
News channels also ought to be concerned about losing an opportunity that comes just once in a few years. Ad rates for election coverage on news channels, especially on days result are declared, attract a premium of up to 300%. However, all of that could change if MAX was allowed to run political advertising during the matches.
“I don’t think you can fight cricket…at best you can ride with it,” says Sushil Pandit, owner of Hive Communications (India) Pvt. Ltd, which manages the BJP’s ad account.
MAX’s share of prime time during the inaugural season went up to 29%, higher than the cumulative market share of the Top 9 Hindi entertainment channels, says Sundar Raman, chief executive officer for IPL.
High rating points in season 1 have meant that the channel continued to demand a premium of up to Rs4.5 lakh for a 10-second ad spot during matches.
Also, news channels are traditionally considered “snacking channels” or channels that audiences tend to watch for short periods of time, says Ravi Kiran, chief executive of the South Asia region for Starcom MediaVest Group.
As a consequence any channel that can keep audiences glued to television for a long time could be an obvious pick.
“Approximately 8-10% of the target annual revenue for news channels is from political advertising. This will mean more aggressive selling by (news channels), more creative packaging of deals where advertisers get more value for money, either in the form of additional ad spots or on-ground events such as panel discussions, etc,” says Kiran.
Increased competition in the form of new channels, the economic slowdown and IPL may prove too much of a challenge for some news channels, according to Kiran. Another media buyer, who did not want to be identified, said political advertising could account for up to 22% of a news channel’s revenue this year, as ad spending from other major categories is down. The IPL management on its part is confident yet cautious about maintaining viewer interest even in the middle of polling.
“During poll phase there will be interest in the area where the polls are being held. For the rest of the country there isn’t any interest till the counting dates,” says Raman, who maintains that it will be more of a programming challenge for the news channels.
“As for our media spends on advertising to promote the league—news channels which appeal to a major part of our adult demographic will definitely be a part of the media mix.”
Beyond advertising revenue, news channels will also have to worry about IPL eating into their share of viewership during this poll season.
While some are looking at winning viewership through news coverage on both events and offering better ad rates and on-ground events to advertisers, others are taking some comfort in the fact that there will be enough viewers tuning in for news coverage of both.
“We see value in covering everything,” said a senior official from Times Now news channel. “We don’t see it as a sports event that will take our viewership or advertisers. It is a news event and there is a healthy interest in coverage of both (IPL and elections),” he said.
Haresh Chawla, group CEO for Network 18, which runs news channels such as CNBC TV18, IBN7 and CNN-IBN, added: “My sense is that there will be more fodder for news channels...and the interest would increase with viewers looking to catch coverage on both IPL as well as elections.”
However, a media buyer who did not wish to be identified said that even if they were allowed to advertise during IPL, political parties would not leave news channels out in the cold.
“They need to butter them (news channels) up for the polls. A political party can do without a Sony MAX, but they cannot do without news channels,” she said.
Also, if political parties are not allowed to advertise during IPL they could be in danger of losing voter interest and attention in the run-up to elections, considered the most crucial time for advertising and marketing for the parties. They would then look to alternate media properties on television such as general entertainment, news, sports and other niche channels to reach their voter base.