Shailesh Kapoor: Roll our the red carpet for Hindi cricket broadcast

22 Nov,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The recently concluded India-West Indies Test series, better known as Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell series, recorded some of the highest ratings for Test cricket in recent times. The second day (when Tendulkar came into bat in the morning in what many hoped will be a century effort in his final Test innings) and the third morning leading upto his farewell speech, rated at par with regular ODIs, a rare occurrence over the last two decades.

 

What interested me more about the ratings was the Hindi to English viewership ratio, which ranged from 2 to 6, on various days. Some of this variation is explained by which channels Star Sports may be pushing on the last mile, and the fact that for the second Test, they had two channels showing the English feed vis-à-vis one showing the Hindi feed, which is when the ratio dropped.

 

The fluctuation of ratio apart, all indicators tell us conclusively that Hindi sports broadcast is the future in the non-South markets in India. That’s what the viewers will increasingly shift to, and that’s what the broadcasters and MSOs will push with greater confidence in the months to come.

 

Hindi commentary attempts are not new to Indian cricket, but the Star Cricket campaign last year (Jo baat Hindi mein who kisi aur mein nahin) was the first serious communication attempt in this direction.

 

It can be argued that the language doesn’t matter in cricket. But that’s far from the truth. High language comprehension can enhance viewing experience and get irregular and light viewers to watch more. These are a large section of viewers who watch only India World Cup matches or select parts of exciting ODIs and T20s. Getting them to watch more matches for more time is the only real growth opportunity in cricket viewership today, and there can’t be a better growth injection for this than Hindi commentary.

 

The criticism on the quality of commentary in Hindi has existed for decades now. But it has been primarily fuelled by Doordarshan and All India Radio commentary. Some unintentionally comic moments notwithstanding, Star Sports’ Hindi commentary this season has been well above the mark, both in terms of the choice of panel and the execution. The ‘elite’ audience who compare the two languages don’t really count. It’s more like The Big Bang Theory audience commenting on Balika Vadhu.

 

If you are an ‘intersection viewer’ like me, who understands both languages equally comfortably, there is a good chance that you will still prefer English commentary. My two main reasons for this choice are the comfort level built with English commentary over three decades, and my preference for international commentators versus the Indian ones. The latter has nothing to do with language. Our lead commentators are generally not as articulate and opinionated as their counterparts in Australia and England.

 

But most viewers are not intersection viewers. Comprehension of English ranges from nil to poor to barely-there in most households in India. Then there is the additional issue with foreign accents. We are perhaps the only country to subtitle all English entertainment content on TV in English itself!

 

For this section of audiences, the Hindi broadcast is a lifeline. It has taken some time to come, but come it has. As time passes and generations change, the habit (my first reason above) will die too, and we will see the Hindi broadcast gain even more momentum.

 

IPL too introduced Hindi commentary this year. They should be encouraged with the Star Sports performance and invest more in it in the coming year, with a stronger panel and better reach and marketing. IPL, in many ways, is the defining cricket tournament on television today, and it has the ability to set and fuel trends.

 

So, well done, Star Sports. It would have been even better if you put your Hindi feed on Star Sports 1 and English feed on Star Sports 3, than the other way round. Would have been a nice, symbolic gesture!

 

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

 

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