COVID-19 puts tournaments on hold, sports channels brace for dip in viewership

The entire sports media eco-system has seen a loss in brand engagements and low market sentiment, affecting advertising revenues, say industry players

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Mar 31, 2020 12:18 PM
Sports Channels

This state of a lockdown has proved to be a major blow to the sporting world much like all other sectors.

Now, no live sport means no takers for sports channels.

In the last fortnight we saw almost every sporting event being cancelled or shelved. Be it, the Indian Premier League or the Indian Open Badminton. Globally too, several big-ticket events like the French Open and the Tokyo Olympics have either been called off or delayed till further notice, leaving the stakeholders high and dry. 

The impact has been felt by television sports broadcasters and digital platforms alike.

According to the recently released BARC-Nielsen report on trends in TV viewership in the times of COVID-19, sports impressions fell by 69 per cent with the genre’s daily average down by 29 per cent. The average time spent has also fallen by 56%, the report said.

Ratings have already embarked on a southward journey. In Week 10 between March 7 and March 13, Star Sports1 Hindi had 112461000 impressions followed by Star Sports First at 66095000 impressions and Sony Ten 1 at 47487000 impressions.

The following week between March 14 and March 20 the ratings changed drastically. At number one was Star Sports First with 96462000 impressions, followed by STAR Sports 1 Hindi with 46878000 impressions showing more than 50% drop and finally there is Sony Ten 1 at 31287000 impressions.

Sharing an insight into how major the impact could be was RC Venkateish, MD, Lex Sportel of 1Sports. “We are expecting anywhere between 40-50% drop in viewership due to the present lockdown because there is no live sport to telecast. Unfortunately, there is also no scope of the viewership numbers improving in  the next six months, making it the worst phase that live sports has ever seen.”

To keep the programming relevant and fresh, 1Sports, like many other sports broadcasters, is switching to alternative plans and are broadcasting content like fight sports events, which are still being recorded behind closed doors without an audience. The channel is also exploring categories like e-sports that can still be played and telecast even in the times of social distancing.

If numbers predicted by research agency Media Partners Asia are anything to go by, Asia-Pacific Sports Media revenue would see a shortfall of 2 billion dollars in 2020. According to the analysis, Sports TV revenues will remain relatively flat in 2020 reaching US$4.3 billion by 2024. Thanks to the novel coronavirus, the entire sports media eco system has been rocked by loss in viewership and brand engagements, and above all advertising revenues, say industry players.

“Falling viewership in sports is expected to lead to a sharp fall in advertisements for the broadcasters. Sports media revenues were expected to grow at 7% CAGR in 11 Asia Pacific markets, including India, between 2019 and 2024 but with the 2020 sports calendar having no major live sports the growth has to be achieved through numbers made in the next calendar year. In the year 2021, live sports will now have to double the revenue target to make up for an almost negative top line in 2020,” said a senior sports analyst.

Every tournament delayed has led to broadcasters suffer huge losses, especially those who had to abruptly change plans due to the breakout.  

The uncertainties over IPL’s new dates has reportedly convinced social media major Facebook to refrain from bidding for streaming rights of live sports. According to international media reports, Facebook Watch was keen on bidding for the IPL live streaming rights. However, due to the recent developments, the plans have been put on hold.

It is not just the falling viewership that is keeping the advertisers away. According to experts, it is the low market sentiment that is keeping the advertisers at bay.

Tuhin Mishra, Managing Director and Co-founder of sports marketing firm Baseline Ventures believes that sports, if not live, evokes little interest among the audiences. “Sports, as a genre, is driven by live events in the form of tournaments or series or titles. The moment the ‘live’ factor is taken away there is not much for the broadcaster to keep the viewers engaged in, other than a very slim share of audience who are sports fanatics and would watch any sort of new and old game just for the sake of watching sports.”

Throwing light on how the advertising strategies in terms of sports channels will see a change, Mishra said, “Brands either advertise on TV channels or drive brand awareness or go by the call to action factor. Given the present situation, brands willing to create awareness can still advertise but those who want customers to come to the shops or go online to procure goods are shying away from advertisements because of the poor economic sentiments created by the lockdown. There are no literally no buyers and that would keep the advertisers away from the genre, which also has no viewers at the moment,” he said, summing up the gloomy situation.

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