By Nick Harris
17 March 2010
The Indian Premier League’s third season has begun with promising viewing figures, rising year-on-year by an eye-catching 1,000 per cent in Britain as well as by 43 per cent in the key domestic market of India.
Closer examination of the numbers reveals the British figures in absolute terms are less impressive, and analysts say caution should be applied to making judgements too early. But the tournament’s return to India after a year away in South Africa has been greeted enthusiastically on the sub-Continent, and initial signs are that the IPL’s unique tie-up with Google to show games globally on YouTube is attracting a new audience.
The British figures for the first three days of IPL 2010 on free-to-air ITV4 “peaked” at 400,000 viewers. That was the maximum people tuning it any one stage, equating to 10 times the numbers achieved in previous seasons on pay-TV station Setanta.
In contrast Sky Sports’ Test coverage of England in Bangladesh last weekend is believed to have peaked at 379,000 viewers.
“On ITV, the IPL this season is being much more widely watched than it was on Setanta,” expert analyst Kevin Alavy told sportingintelligence today. Alavy is a director at Futures Sport + Entertainment, an arm of the leading international analysts, Initiative. “Average audiences [people watching matches in their entirely] are in the 200,000 to 300,000 range on ITV4, which is 10 times more viewers than in either of the two previous seasons on Setanta.
“This demonstrates the importance of your broadcast partner. The product hasn’t improved in qualitative terms. What’s different is it’s free to air, it’s backed by the respected brand of ITV and it’s on Freeview.”
Alavy warns that early gains don’t necessarily mean the IPL has “cracked” Britain. “It’s a peculiar event in some respects because until you reach the semi-finals and final, these matches in the first week will probably be the most watched of the season,” he says. “Interest risks dropping off as games become less relevant and there are ‘dead rubbers’. But it’s a good start.”
Alavy’s firm compiled a report at the end of IPL2 that showed the move to South Africa for security reasons in 2009 coincided with a drop of 20 per cent in viewing figures across most markets against 2008. In short, the IPL was a ratings flop everywhere outside India and declining even there.
It was only really watched within the sub-Continent (India had a 96 per cent global share of viewing in 2008 and 2009), and the balance of the fans were in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England. In terms of meaningful numbers, nobody else bothered to tune in. Only time will tell if it broadens its appeal this year.
Domestic TV ratings for the opening match in 2010 indicate around 19m people watched the opener between Kolkata Knight Riders and Deccan Chargers within India on TV, up 43 per cent on the opening match in 2009, and up 35 per cent on the opener in the first season, 2008.
The dedicated IPL YouTube channel is being marketed in unprecedented fashion by Google, especially in India where there have been ads for the channel on the google.co.in homepage. This has resulted in a reported 8m hits on the cricket streams, although details on where people are watching, and for how long, are non-existent so far. Crowd data is also conspicuous by its absence, as it was throughout 2008 and 2009.
The TV data, though, is so far broadly positive in 2010, although putting those 400,000 fans in Britain in context, that is still some way below the number of people regularly tuning in to the CBeebies toddlers channel to watch shows like ‘Grandpa In My Pocket’ (518,000 viewers for one episode last week), or Bob the Builder (453,000).
And those 8m hits for the IPL on YouTube still represent just 12 per cent of the 100m views received by Susan ‘SuBo’ Boyle when she first because famous.