Ambani’s IPL streaming playbook goes beyond the number fight versus Disney Star

Indian Premier League, the world’s richest cricket league, has begun with usual success, delivering the thrills of an articulated Virat Kohli innings or gigantic sixes hit by MS Dhoni. This edition of IPL has gone through three rule changes, but the biggest change for the cash-rich tournament is how it is broadcast for the same audience on different platforms by separate companies.

For the first time, two companies – Disney Star and Mukesh Ambani’s Viacom18, are broadcasting the matches on television and digital platforms, respectively. The companies had spent a bagful of money to pick up the broadcast rights. What they also did was set up a fierce rivalry to either establish the dominance of television viewership or change the habit to adopt OTT as the preferred mode for watching cricket.

Six matches into the IPL, both companies have pat their own backs on how well their viewership is and the reason for them to cheer the numbers. However, the numbers for television viewing exceeds that of OTT. This is on expected lines given India’s muted fast-Internet reach, expensive data and most importantly, lower smartphone penetration compared to TV sets.

Inside Jio Cinema’s 147 crore video views

Viacom18, a joint venture between Reliance Industries and Paramount Global, said JioCinema, the official digital streaming partner of IPL, clocked over 147 crore video views, recording the highest-ever opening weekend for the tournament on digital.

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The company said the average time spent per viewer per match touched 57 minutes. The platform attracted over 10 crore new viewers and witnessed 5 crore new app downloads during the weekend.However, the 147 crore video views do not mean 147 crore viewers. Karan Taurani, senior vice president and media analyst at Elara Capital, explained that the average time spent is 57 minutes and so in that one hour some users could have logged in and logged out to two-to-four times. On average, a user started and stopped watching the match around three times in a day, or nine times over Friday-to-Sunday.

“This means, if there are 15-to-18 crore viewers and they have logged in and out nine times, you will get the number around 147 crore video views,” he said.

The season’s opening clash between MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings and Hardik Pandya’s Gujarat Titans achieved a peak concurrency of 1.6 crore, Jio had said.

However, there wasn’t a smooth beginning as viewers took to social media platforms to criticise the app for crashing, buffering issues and loss of audio feed for two straight matches, including the the first match of the season between Gujarat Titans and Chennai Super Kings.

Reliance picked the lion’s share of IPL broadcasting rights (for 2023-2027) for a total of Rs 23,758 crore.

More than 20 top brands have partnered with JioCinema for their digital streaming of IPL 2023, including (Co-Presenting Sponsor) Dream11, (Co-Powered) JioMart, PhonePe, Tiago EV, (Associate Sponsors) Appy Fizz, ET Money, Castrol, TVS, Oreo, Bingo, Sting, AJIO, Haier, RuPay, Louis Philippe Jeans, Amazon, Rapido, Ultra Tech Cement, Puma, Kamla Pasand, Kingfisher Power Soda, and Jindal Panther TMT.

Disney Star’s 29% TV rating jump

Meanwhile, Walt Disney & Co-owned Star Sports, the official television broadcaster of the Indian Premier League, said it has seen a 47% on-year jump in consumption for the opening match, while its TV rating also spiked 29%.

The broadcaster said it clocked a total of 870 crore minutes of consumption on TV for the opening match between Gujarat Titans and Chennai Super Kings on March 31. Fourteen crore viewers tuned in for the live broadcast on the opening day, which included the opening ceremony with 13 crore viewers.

Disney Star said, citing BARC data, it saw a sharp 29% growth in TVR compared to the previous IPL edition. Over 20 crore viewers watched the build-up programming for TATA IPL 2023 even before the tournament began on Friday.

The company had bagged the TV rights for the Indian subcontinent, paying Rs 23,575 crore.

Disney Star’s sponsors are Tata Neu, Dream11, Airtel, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Asian Paints, Cadbury, Jindal Panther, Parle Biscuits, Britannia, RuPay, Kamla Pasand, and LIC.

Ambani’s playbook vs Star’s legacy

Experts opined that Asia’s richest tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s OTT platform streaming the IPL this time wasn’t aiming to win all viewers. He is keen to plant a dominant position for consumer super-apps while his flagship telecom company attracts customers from Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Airtel and financially strained Vodafone Idea.

Ambani is also seen close to listing JIo Platforms on the stock indices.

His disruptive playbook of offering free streaming, like during the FIFA World Cup, harps on getting larger advertisers to sign chequebooks or even Reliance promoting its own products, particularly the FMCG items where the business kingpin has set eyes to dominate the market.

Ambani is bolstering retail consumer play, while his closest rival Gautam Adani is busy arresting wealth erosion following Hindenburg’s allegations.

“Ambani has the funds and the mindset to play the long game and his gambit to telecast IPL free is aimed at changing consumer behaviour over the longer term,” Swarup Gupta, financial services lead and head, ESG ratings service, at Economist Intelligence Unit, told ET Online.

“This strategy is unlikely to translate into revenues in the short to medium term, whether it is in terms of subscription fees, or advertising revenues, but will certainly boost the popularity of the Jio app. Over the longer run, and if this becomes a yearly phenomenon, it could lead to widespread change in viewer behaviour,” he added.

On the other hand, Star Sports has set a target to reach 500 million viewers this year through IPL, higher than the roughly 400 million that the network reached in previous editions.

Star Sports is broadcasting IPL on more than 22 channels with over 10 feeds. It also launched Star Sports Pro and VIP for some DTH operators, bringing in digital features to tv sets. The new features offer match highlights, in-depth stats and other digital features within a live match.

Industry reports of EY-FICCI and Affle have confirmed that the smartphone penetration in India is close to 460 million, which is just half of the television penetration in India. Data cost is another major factor that is likely to slow down the interest to watch matches on OTTs.

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