Forget India’s chances, for a moment. Next month’s cricket World Cup has broadcaster Sony Entertainment Television (SET) hoping for a victory of its own.
After slipping to the No. 3 network slot last year, SET India Pvt. Ltd is stepping up marketing efforts to lift dwindling viewership and advertising revenues.
The network, which holds exclusive broadcasting rights to the cricket World Cup for India, has begun its ‘Come Play’ campaign teasing viewers with images of beach, sport and revelry from the West Indies, this year’s host of the tournament. And fearful of losing viewers the minute the cup’s awarded—as it did the last time around—SET plans to plug future programming as well, including a month-long marathon of Amitabh Bachchan movies starting the day after the final.
By some estimates, the company could earn up to Rs300 crore in advertising revenues from the World Cup. And in cricket-mad India, analysts expect ratings to soar.
But they also caution that there is a lesson to be learned from the 2003 World Cup, when, too, Sony owned the Indian broadcasting rights. SET Max, one of Sony Entertainment Television’s three channels, was the most viewed during the tournament, but lost audience immediately after it. Today, Sony ranks third after Star and Zee.
Meanwhile, SET’s plans for an initial public offering have been delayed repeatedly, creating ire among investors with a minority stake in the company. Sony Pictures International holds the majority stake. The company wouldn’t comment on the status of its IPO.
Sony needs to claw its way back, said Jagdeep Kapoor, managing director of Mumbai-based Samsika Marketing Consultants. The World Cup might be the lifeline the network needs to remake itself, Kapoor said, as competitors across media platforms roll out their own efforts, from ESPN’s broadcasts via mobile phones to Dish TV’s package, allowing fans to customize viewing.
“They need a very good campaign to cut through the clutter and stand out,” said Kapoor, the author of Brand Switch: How to Gain, Regain and Retain Consumers.
While it has come to be expected that the entire nation will be caught up in cricket fever, a smart kickoff promo could help build anticipation and hype among viewers—and advertisers. Hence, the number of advertisements that count down to the cricket World Cup in an effort to build up hype, anticipation and viewership.
“It helps the broadcaster increase spot rates,” said Farokh Balsara, media analyst at professional services firm Ernst & Young.
The one-minute World Cup advertisement intersperses scenes of cricket players and islanders with the phrase, ‘Come Play’, giving the slogan double meaning .
Media observers said the promotion—being shown on Sony’s India channels: Sony TV, SET Max and SAB TV—was aimed at recouping the $255 million (Rs1,147 crore) the company paid the International Cricket Council to secure broadcasting rights for the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.
Sony officials conceded as much, and said they must cash in on the tournament. “But then, we need a campaign that is unique to differentiate ourselves from the others,” said SET Max marketing head V. Gangadhar.
By showing matches that begin at 8pm India time, the entertainment-driven Sony channels will lose their signature serials and sitcoms during prime-time hours. Thus, said P. Phani Sekhar, fund manager with the Mumbai-based Angel Broking Ltd, cricket spots have to be sold at a premium.
He guessed Sony would quote—and get—between 5% to 10% higher advertising revenue during the World Cup. All but about 10% of advertising inventory has been sold, Rohit Gupta, SET’s executive vice-president for ad sales and revenue management, said in a recent interview with Mint.
The presenting sponsors are Nokia and Reliance, while associate sponsors include Hero Honda, Pepsi, LG and Maruti, among others. Ten-second spots were being sold for Rs1.5 lakh, Gupta said.
Archna Shukla contributed to this story.