Shailesh Kapoor: IPL: Credibility vs. Viewership

24 May,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The last week has been an infamous one for the Indian Premier League (IPL), and from what it seems, we have certainly not seen the end of the controversy the league finds itself in. Newspapers and news channels have prominently covered what obviously qualifies as news of great “national interest”.

 

There is a strong sense of deja vu here. In 2010, Lalit Modi was ousted from his position as the IPL Commissioner in the week leading upto the finals. I remember how several “experts”, including cricketers themselves, were busy debating the issue on various news channels, even as Chennai Super Kings were playing Mumbai Indians in the all-important match. Wonder which viewers was a news show such as this targeting!

 

Any issue with legal ramifications needs to be handled by the investigative and legal machinery available for the same. But the part that interests me here is how the media has handled this situation.

 

The most interesting, even amusing, side of the media’s take on the spot-fixing controversy is an axiom most journalists seem to be operating out of, that “If IPL loses its credibility, it will lose its viewership.” However axiomatic this may sound, it is simply not true. And if you miss this point, you are missing the larger IPL story altogether.

 

IPL is cricket-based primetime entertainment. I find this description of the tournament not only appropriate, but also encouraging. It feeds right back into the material instincts of the young, ambitious India that we all talk about. As Veeru from Sholay famously said: “Iss story mein emotional hai, drama hai, tragedy hai.” It is as real as any reality show can get, complete with its twists like spot-fixing.

 

Does the viewer care about these controversies? Of course he does. It is fodder for office and college canteen talk, after all. But does the viewer have a strong position on it? Not necessarily. For many, these controversies are like tabloid gossip, which you consume for voyeuristic pleasure, purely as entertainment. To say that the average Indian cricket viewer is deeply troubled by this is a mile away from the truth. The average Indian cricket viewer is an “average Indian” first. He has enough else to care and worry about.

 

Hence, the linkage between controversy, credibility and viewership begins to break. But from the high horse that many in the media seem to be on, it seems like the most obvious thing ever known to mankind.

 

I can understand former cricketers and passionate old-time sports journalists getting worked up about the “entertainment” positioning of a cricket tournament. But why do other journalists and guests take a “cricket is a gentleman’s game” stance is not very clear to me. IPL is now in its sixth year. It has never pretended to be championing the gentleman’s-game positioning of the game. It has been unequivocal about its motives.

 

There have been a few senior cricket journalists who have taken an exception of the idea of the league from way back in 2008. That’s a viewpoint and understandable. But what does not add up is the news channels approach of giving extensive coverage to the league through half-hour daily shows (with repeats), and then taking a moral view on cricket when a controversy erupts.

 

When a normal political scam runs into 11 digits of monetary valuation, an IPL controversy involving a few million should actually be inside-page news. But let’s face it. Even the newspapers and news channels know that it is “popular”. In a way then, by giving it disproportionate coverage, they are endorsing the power of the IPL, even using it to their advantage. Talk about irony!

 

Meanwhile, the viewer is getting all set to watch a final on Sunday.

 

Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor

 

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