Mumbai: Rivals of SET MAX, the television channel that broadcasts the Indian Premier League (IPL), claim their Hindi soaps deliver higher viewership ratings than the quick-format cricket tournament.

Star India Pvt. Ltd and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, which operate the general entertainment channels (GECs) Star Plus and Zee, respectively, say their year-long Hindi soaps have a more loyal viewership than IPL, which runs for a little over a month.

But Multiscreen Media Pvt. Ltd, which owns SET MAX, as well as independent researchers say IPL’s reach is broader than the Hindi viewership these channels are talking about. Media buyers also say IPL dents the overall viewership of GECs.

Viewership levels determine how much money television channels can charge for advertisements shown during those programmes.

Graphic: Yogesh Kumar / Mint

The Star study says the average rating for a half-hour slot of its soap Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai is 6.1, while the average rating for Balika Vadhu on Colors is 5.8. IPL 2010 delivers an average rating of 4.8 for the same time. In 2008, the average half-hour rating for an IPL match was 4.9, and it was 4.3 last year.

Star has calculated the figures based on data over 52 weeks (8 March 2009-6 March 2010) for time slots between 8pm and 9.30pm.

“There is this myth in media circles that when the IPL season comes, everyone needs to duck for cover," said Anupam Vasudev, executive vice-president (marketing), Star.

“But what we’ve found is that several of our top soaps such as Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai deliver far better (ratings) than IPL matches. We’ve looked at parameters such as reach, time spent, average television ratings, etc.," he added.

Average time spent watching soaps is also higher than time spent watching IPL, says the study. Viewers spent 16.9 minutes watching Yeh Rishta... and 16.4 minutes on Balika Vadhu. Average viewing time for IPL 2010 is 14.9 minutes, marginally up from 14.6 minutes in the last two years but still below what the Hindi soaps manage.

The study calculated average IPL viewing time on the basis of six weeks each of 2008 and 2009, and nine days of 2010 in comparable time slots.

Vasudev also denied reports that Star’s advertising revenue was falling due to IPL. “I can’t comment on other channels, but our inventories (advertising slots) are going full," he said.

Joy Chakraborthy, chief revenue officer, Zee, also said the IPL was not affecting the channel’s revenue. “Competing brands continue to advertise on general entertainment channels," he said.

Chakraborthy labelled IPL ads as “blind spots". “The breaks are short and people are getting confused about which ad is for what brand. Besides, there’s too much inventory sold per match (on IPL) and it’s getting too intrusive," he said.

But Rohit Gupta, president of network sales at Multiscreen Media, dismissed the Star study. “It is not an apple-to-apple comparison," he said.

“Why are they taking into account (only) Hindi speaking markets when everyone knows that cricket is a national phenomenon? If we were to look at figures at an all-India level, soaps would deliver at least 20-30% less than IPL," said Gupta.

He added that more people swap channels during ad breaks on GECs than during IPL matches.

The reason, explained L.V. Krishnan, chief executive of TAM Media Research, is that IPL breaks are 30-40 seconds long, while soaps on GECs take a three-minute break, offering viewers ample time to check out what’s showing on other channels before returning to the soap.

Krishnan agreed with the Star study that Hindi soaps’ viewership does not generally decline due to IPL. “But the viewership in the Hindi-speaking markets does get affected when teams from these markets are on the field, especially when Mumbai Indians or Delhi Daredevils are playing," he said.

Three of the eight IPL teams are from southern India and do not influence the Hindi-speaking viewership of GECs too much, he said.

Despite the Star study’s claims, advertisers are following IPL. Sony is expected to make nearly Rs700 crore from the Twenty20 cricket tournament, as reported earlier by Mint. “If the (broadcast of) IPL is making huge revenues, the money’s got to come from somewhere. And it’s obviously from general entertainment channels," said Gupta of Multiscreen Media.

IPL attracts what TAM calls “light television viewers". On average, a housewife spends 160 miinutes a day watching television, while the chief wage earner spends 110 minutes.

“IPL causes viewer aggregation to happen," said Krishnan. “The chief wage earner, who may have divided time on news, English-language film channel HBO, etc., is now on sports. Male and female viewers who were split across channels are now concentrated on two genres—sports and GEC."

Anita Nayyar, chief executive of Havas Media India, did not comment on Star’s study but said IPL does affect GEC viewerships. “In the past two years, we’ve seen a 10-15% dip in viewership for the GECs during (IPL)," she said. “Because of that, revenues also take a hit."