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MUMBAI : Reliance Industries-controlled entertainment network Viacom18 is going all out to promote its digital platform— JioCinema—as the better viewing medium for the upcoming season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). However, its marketing plan, which centres around portraying the digital medium as superior to linear television, has miffed many TV executives within the network, which also operates a large TV business.

Last month, Viacom18 invited advertisers and media agencies to JioCinema CricStream, a two-day event to showcase the innovations on offer for both advertisers and consumers during the first-ever IPL stream on JioCinema. The event began with an exhibition of an unlit dark passage, called the ‘Linear TV Tunnel’, which has made insiders as well as rival broadcasters uncomfortable. The tunnel mentioned falling TV ratings of the IPL over the years, and also had a message at the end, which read — “there is no light at the end of this tunnel".

Many executives within Viacom18 confirmed to Mint that internally, there is much angst over the IPL messaging.

“This was a kind of disservice to TV, the medium, which has been bringing in the revenues for the network," said a senior Viacom18 executive on condition of anonymity. “Ideally, they could have promoted and sold digital on its own merit and didn’t have to compare it with TV. Digital has enough strength to sell on its own. It’s not the case that people are unaware of the proposition; otherwise, advertisers wouldn’t have invested money on YouTube and Facebook. There was no need to compare as IPL for free on digital in itself was a very powerful messaging."

Another head of TV business within the group said what the digital team is doing, is kind of a self-goal. “Today, when my salespeople are going to sell top properties on TV, agencies are asking questions about why we are charging a premium on TV, when clearly our sister company feels that TV is dead. It’s like we don’t need rivals outside, the people within are doing enough damage," the executive said.

A detailed email query sent to a Viacom18 spokesperson remained unanswered till press time.

Viacom18 operates 38 entertainment and sports channels across languages, while its promoter Network18 runs a host of news and current affairs channels under TV18. Altogether, there are 59 linear TV channels operated by Reliance-controlled entities.

Experts said Viacom18, which won the digital rights of the league for a whopping 23,757.5 crore, was expected to pull out all stops to promote the digital medium; however, they added it did not need to diss the traditional linear TV business, where it has a significant presence.

Though pay TV has lost some of its subscribers to digital and free-to-air (FTA) modes, the ad money on television will still be above 40,000 crore, and to say that TV is dead is far from the truth.

“Linear TV will continue to be a significant medium for the foreseeable future, although growth rates may taper," said Jehil Thakkar, partner and media and entertainment sector leader at Deloitte India.

He added that TV in India remains the cheapest medium of entertainment by global standards. “While penetration is plateauing, India remains an ‘and’ market for digital and not an ‘or’ market. Also, data costs will continue to go up and Indians are value-based consumers. Having said that, in the long run, yes, people will move away from the traditional mode of transmission, but still, TV as a device will continue," Thakkar said.

Industry experts, as well as rivals Mint spoke with, said that one has to check if Viacom18 really believes whether linear TV is dead; and if that’s the case, what is the future of the 59 TV channels the group operates.

A rival broadcaster added that Viacom18’s situation right now is a precarious one. “They have to go all out justifying the investment in digital, and for that, they have chosen a path of pulling the other medium (TV) down, without realizing that they themselves were second highest bidders for the IPL TV rights. They also have popular shows like Bigg Boss and Khataron Ke Khiladi on TV, while in sports also, they have TV rights to the Women’s Premier League, South Africa Cricket and their SA T20 league," he said. “They are riding on two horses at the same time, and the conundrum is on how to land safely."

To be sure, many experts said that broadcasters will increasingly face similar situations in the future as TV rights of key sporting properties will be hard-fought and split. For instance, the ICC rights starting next year are with Disney Star, but the broadcaster is keeping only digital rights and has already sub-licensed the TV rights to Zee Entertainment Enterprises.

“The monies are finite and each rights holder will fight for the last penny from the advertiser. Now, one way is by doing it on the merit of the medium, while the other is by going for oneupmanship and saying that I am better than the other. In that case, both will lose and only the advertiser will be the beneficiary," said a senior executive with a large media buying agency, who has advised his clients to wait and let the rates go down.

As per the latest ad forecast report by GroupM, India’s ad spend is estimated to grow at 15.5% in 2023 to reach 1.46 trillion. While digital as a medium will corner 82,542 crore in ad spending, TV will command 43,227 crore.

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Updated: 22 Mar 2023, 01:28 AM IST
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