Shailesh Kapoor: Cricket under threat from the Digital Generation?

28 Mar,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

There was a time, not too long ago, when India-Pakistan cricket would bring life to a standstill across the country. When India played Pakistan in the World Cup semi-final on March 30, 2011, the country was unofficially shut on a middle-of-the-week working day. A rivalry that started in real measure with the Australasia Cup final in Sharjah in 1986, when Javed Miandad hit that famous last-ball six off Chetan Sharma, has seen many highs over 28 years.

 

But there are signs that the battle is losing its edge. The recent Asia Cup ODI between the two countries (Sunday, March 2) rated less than what a moderately successful Hindi GEC serial does night after night. The World Cup T20 contest last week, scheduled well into the primetime on a Friday, rated about the level of a regular Diya Aur Baati Hum episode only.

 

When you begin to look at the ratings of other India matches, like India-Sri Lanka or India-New Zealand, the real reason is exposed. Cricket is not growing. There seems to be an audience that is moving away from the sport completely, irrespective of the format. This audience is the younger lot (12-24 years) in the big cities. This shift may have started happening over the last 4-5 years only, and is now resulting in real impact.

 

I have written several pieces in this column about the power of cricket in India. Lest I should be misunderstood, it is important to clarify that cricket’s de-growth does not make the sport irrelevant any time in the near future. We are still a one-sport nation, with football being a distant second. Cricket has a huge plus in the patriotic element it brings to the table. That is unlikely to be challenged by any mass sport for a long time.

 

But when you are the only one, your competition is with yourself. So cricket has to find ways of maintaining its viewer base. The big idea of 2008, IPL, is now under some real threat of disintegrating, because of power-hungry officials who care little about the future of the sport. As the audience that was brought up on cricket in the 1980s and ’90s grows older, they will begin to matter less and less in size. The new generation needs to be coaxed into watching the sport.

 

Star Sports seems to have understood this better than BCCI. Their online presence has been given the stature of a TV channel, no less. With quality Hindi commentary, they have changed the elitist mindset with which cricket coverage was handled for decades in India. They have the best platforms to market the sport, and the ability to create persuasive messaging to achieve the desired impact.

 

But when your target audience is a generation that is visibly high on distraction, and perpetually so, the task is a mammoth one. Cricket needs to find its cool-ness back. An overhaul may be required sooner than later. But do those who are running the sport have the will to do it?

 

TV Trails is a weekly column written by Shailesh Kapoor, 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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One response to “Shailesh Kapoor: Cricket under threat from the Digital Generation?”

  1. Himanshu Agarwal says:

    It is brilliantly written as always. I completely agree with you. As indicated by you too, I believe that the followers are just shifting
    from one medium to another. Mobile TVs, Mobile Apps, Online Portals, they are feeding the hunger for cricket. One of the reasons is that we are more mobile now than ever hence parking 4- 5 hours for a cricket match pinned to the television may not be a viable option for a generation on the move.

    It’s a common sight on my daily commute to see people logged
    into the mobile apps to catch all the action.

    I would love to read your thoughts about election campaigns during the current cricket broadcast and the decision by Star Sports to
    unbundle the channel from the bouquet.