Tuesday, February 17, 2015

At 25 mn, Indo-Pak match viewership creates history

When India beat Pakistan in its first cricket match of the ICC World Cup 2015, in Adelaide on Sunday, the team created history in more ways than one. First, it maintained its unbeaten World Cup record against its arch-rivals. And second, the match recorded a little more than 25 million views on the digital platform in India — one of the highest for a single game in a sporting event across the globe in one country  — according to data from STAR India, the official broadcaster. No other spots event — including premier American football event Super Bowl or Wimbledon tennis — is anywhere close to that figure.

STAR India Chief Operating Officer Sanjay Gupta said: “We got 25 million views on two of our digital platforms — Hotstar and STAR Sports — with an average duration of 10-12 minutes. We believe this was the biggest number of views on the digital platform ever for a single match, much more than the five million the Super Bowl in the US had received.”  The new application Hotstar, launched on February 1, hit five million downloads in the last fortnight.

According to Adobe Prime that tracks digital platforms in the US, the National Football League (NFL) Super Bowl at its peak on February 1 had five million unique online views on NBC Sports Live Extra, the digital platform of NBC. NFL Mobile from Verizon, a smartphone platform, had 1.3 million viewers, according to US magazines. Data from Wimbeldon show in 2014 about 1.3 million people saw Wimbeldon live on its digital platform, Wimbeldon TV, while BBC had 12.7 million video requests on its online platforms in the entire championship.

Besides, STAR India is for the first time telecasting the ICC World Cup in six languages — English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. Based on trends, the broadcaster is expecting about 40-45 per cent of the viewership to come from the regional language feeds, representing a fundamental shift that will affect sports advertising as well. While English will account for a fourth of the viewership, the rest will be from Hindi. This ratio was 70 per cent for Hindi and 30 per cent for English in the previous World Cup. STAR estimates about 300 million viewers were glued to the match between India and Pakistan.

A few years ago, sports broadcasting was limited to English, Gupta said. But with an expansion of the regional market, advertisers with smaller ticket sizes have come in. “As rates are lower, advertisers require smaller ticket sizes, so the number of advertisers is going up. For instance, in the previous World Cup, we had 100 advertisers. This year, we have double that number. So, it does not impact overall revenues,” said Gupta.

STAR India said the huge number of online views for the India-Pakistan match reflected a shift from television to mobile devices and computers. According to Gupta, every show of Diya Aur Baati Hum, one of STAR Plus’s top serials, attracts 40-45 million TV viewers. That is close to the 25 million viewers of the India-Pakistan match. “By next year, with 4G LTE and growth of data, we could see dramatic changes in how the Indian Premier League (IPL) is watched, for instance,” added Gupta.

STAR India, which recently bought the digital rights for IPL, said there were 60 million video views during the 60 matches last year. This would change dramatically this year with the launch of STAR’s new application Hotstar.

Hotstar has been built to work on lower bandwidth, a key problem faced by Indian consumers, especially on their mobile phones. For instance, it is built to operate on speeds as low as 64 Kbps, and ideally on speeds of 128 Kbps. To resolve the issue of connectivity, on unstable 3G services, common in India, the application is optimised to reduce the quality of the picture rather than having to open the video again.

Hotstar, to also show all STAR channels’ programming, is free. The reason: STAR executives said there was no stable payment mechanism in the country available to handle so many views and consumers.

Advertisers acknowledge the shift in viewership.  Said  Saurabh Baisakhiya, business head (air-conditioners), LG Electronics, a prominent national advertiser and an ICC Cricket sponsor: “Time today is spent most on mobile screens than TV screens. At present, our digital spends are about 8-10 per cent of our total ad and marketing budget. We see this going up to 15 per cent in the next few years.”  R S Sodhi, managing director, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, owner of Amul, one of the largest consumer goods brands in India, said the medium digital attracted the youth who have the purchasing power. That is why the company is looking at increasing its digital advertising budget to around 10 per cent in a few years from two-three per cent currently.

Madhu Dutta, marketing head (lifestyle business), Raymond, on-air sponsor of the on-going cricket World Cup, said, “Undoubtedly, Hotstar has stolen the show. Smaller screens are dominating the market today. It is clear the customer is living in the digital age.” 

Regional brands are also bullish on STAR’s regional push. Said Parag Desai, executive director, Wagh Bakri Tea Group, the largest brand in its sector in Gujarat, “There is a large market of regional advertisers in the country. So the idea of regional feeds for big properties is a good idea. But the challenge here is pricing that has to be reasonable.”

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