Shailesh Kapoor: IPL 2019: Language-led Growth & more…

05 Apr,2019

By Shailesh Kapoor


The 2019 season of IPL has taken a flying start. Ratings for the first week have come in and they look better than ever before. The reported Hotstar numbers are an all-time high too. Even at a conservative level, we could be looking at a 25-30% jump in the total (TV + digital) viewership over the last season by the time this season reaches its finale.

There hasn’t been anything particularly different about the cricket itself compared to last year. There have been close matches and some high-scoring ones too, but the first week of IPL 2018 had more thrills and actions cricket-wise. This makes the jump in ratings even more significant. The league opener this time was a low-scoring and one-sided game, with CSK chasing only 71 against RCB. Yet, the game has rated way higher than last time’s opener, which was a high-quality thriller penned by Dwayne Bravo.

The regionalisation of IPL is one of the definite contributing factors at play. Weekend games are on air on 20+ channels, including the HD ones. This is more than double (perhaps triple) of the number of channels last year. Cricket has no language, but for casual viewers (and IPL has loads of them), the commentary experience can be a key engagement driver, and that’s why the multi-language initiative by Star is so relevant. With the benefit of hindsight, Sony may be wondering if they missed the bus on this one all these years.

The IPL story on Hotstar may take a few more weeks to emerge clearly. But it will not be surprising if growth upward of 40-50% is seen. Timed well with IPL, Hotstar has launched its new slate of shows under the umbrella Hotstar Specials. Roar Of The Lion, a docudrama on CSK’s 2018 journey, and Criminal Justice, an adaptation of the acclaimed BBC series, are the first two out, the latter having launched this morning.

Hotstar has also launched Hotstar VIP, a more affordable subscription service compared to Hotstar Premium. All this action leaves one wondering what will happen when Disney’s global OTT platform launches. Will Hotstar continue to exist as an independent brand? But that’s at a least a year away.

While Star has done so much right this year around the IPL, the Select Dugout initiative that they started last year has been the big dampener this time. It seems like a classic case of overthinking a good idea and tinkering with it needlessly. The audio is awry on Star Sports Select HD this year. You just don’t get the stadium feel watching the channel because of the audio mix. And there is way too much going on between the commentators, who seem to have been over-briefed to come across casual and funny, along with being knowledgeable. Hope someone at Star is working on fixing this soon.

But that apart, the cricketing season has taken off to a very good start. There’s only an 18-day gap between the IPL final and first game of the ICC World Cup in England. So, from now till July 14, when the World Champions are crowned, it’s a non-stop cricket feast.



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