The cricket dilemma comes to light again. Recent cricketing events have consistently delivered inconsistent results. The latest – the India-South Africa series – gets added to this list, and with one game being a washout and the India team demonstrating its worst performances ever in the other matches, the credibility of cricket as a property for both channels and advertisers comes into question again.
Beginning with numbers, the MTN Series' first ODI was a washout and hence, there are numbers for only one match from the series so far and that is of the second match, played between India and South Africa on November 22, 2006. The match was aired on both ESPN and STAR Sports. TAM Media Research data shows that for the target CS 15+ in the all India market, ESPN has a total rating of 3.37 for the match and STAR Sports has 1.11.
Looking at the channel shares, ESPN is the new leader for this week, closely followed by Ten Sports (which has been the leader in the genre otherwise) and then STAR Sports. The difference between ESPN and Ten Sports might have been different had the numbers of the first match been reflected, but at present, the gap between the two is marginal.
Asserting that the numbers are 'alright' for a match like this, industry experts present the larger picture. Navin Kathuria, Business Director, Madison Media, said, "Cricket is a game of risks and it will always be that. Channels and advertisers both know it. However, even when the team is at its worst, people watch the match at least for the initial few hours in the hope that India will play well."
Speaking from a channel's point of view, Manoj Malkani, Carat's National Buying Head for Television, said, "Ten Sports has built its base on India cricket. In fact, ESPN and STAR Sports took a backseat on this front – this property has come on the channels after a considerable gap. What Ten did is use cricket to promote some of its other properties and even in that it is only WWE that really delivers for the channel."
Agreeing with him, Kathuria said, "Ten built its on cricket and it is only WWE that are the top rated shows for the channel. For sports channels, the property is strong enough to make a difference in where it is placed from a distribution point of view and even in building audience's habits."
Malkani added, "Appointment viewing isn't really a characteristic for sports channels. When you have good cricket properties, you can create the habit and Ten Sports banks on something like that. In fact, you can expect some of the forthcoming series of ESPN to rate better, following cricket on the channel."
Both professionals felt that from a channel's point of view, cricket would continue to be important for a long time, but the stability in the property's pricing might be near. Neo Sports was the top rate channel a couple of months back in the week the channel aired cricket. Another vindication comes in channels queuing for the ICC rights and players like Sony Entertainment Television backing out – cricket is still important, but not important enough to burn your fingers completely.
From an advertiser's point of view, cricket is still hot. In a recent interview, HLL's GM, Media Services, Rahul Welde, had said that cricket was perhaps the only property left that allowed a mass impact for male and family audiences together. Throwing more light on what the property meant to brands, he said, "The male delivery on cricket cannot be questioned or matched when seen for involvement. The closest that television otherwise has to offer are events like STAR Parivaar Awards or other film awards and so on."
Agreeing with this, Kathuria cautioned, "Perhaps the only time when cricket is a problem is when it has been sold or bought too expensive, but that will get tackled over time. Sanity in the property's pricing has to happen if the deliveries keep averaging low the way they are. That said, cricket gives you quality audiences, there are people who don't even switch between breaks in a good match. Second, it is often the big brands that have cricket for crucial campaigns and there would be other properties on the plan too, but cricket is an absolute must for some right now and that is not going to change in a hurry."
The media approach to cricket was not so different last year as well. Whether media experts foresee or plain hope, the expectation is that cricket rates would rationalise going forward.