IPL media rights auction points to viewership’s shifting landscape

The broadcast rights for the world’s richest cricket league, the Indian Premier League (IPL), for 2023-27 will be almost three times as expensive as the last time. While the winning bid for TV rights doubled, it was digital that stole the show. Registering a sixfold growth, total digital rights for the Indian subcontinent were sold at a higher price than TV rights for the region for the first time.

TV and digital rights combined were sold at a whopping 48,390 crore at the auction that concluded on Tuesday. Out of this, 20,500 crore was for exclusive digital rights, and 23,575 crore for TV rights.

The aggressive bidding for IPL digital rights is on expected lines, given the boom India has seen in its digital landscape in recent years. From just 7 million in 2018, paid subscriptions on video OTT platforms rose to 80 million in 2021, according to EY estimates. Pay TV subscriptions, on the other hand, have been on a consistent decline, seeing a fall of 5 million subscribers in 2021 alone.


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This decline is attributed to the shift of rural subscribers to free TV such as MX Player, Jio TV, and Airtel Xstream, as well as a growing preference for connected smart TV among urban consumers. The number of such subscriptions has likely doubled, from 5 million in 2020 to 10 million in 2021, EY estimated.

There were murmurs of declining IPL viewership this year based on BARC data, and that, too, could have been because of a shift of TV audience to OTT platforms, which BARC doesn’t measure, suggested a YouGov India survey conducted in May-June.

However, TV still holds two-thirds of IPL “superfans”, or those who watched every single match in the recently concluded 2022 season, the survey showed.

As production took a hit in TV and print circulation fell during the pandemic, digital also cornered a larger share of advertising revenue. Ad volumes on TV bounced back in 2021 but again declined slightly in January-March 2022, shows BARC data. Riding on the pandemic-led push, digital’s share is only likely to grow in the coming years. Reliance-owned Viacom18, which won the digital rights, may be eyeing the rising ad revenue to recover some of the hefty amount it is paying BCCI.

IPL’s digital rights were sold separately from TV for the first time in 2011 to Times Internet, at 262 crore for four years. Growing roughly 1.5 times in per-year value, they were sold to Disney Hotstar at 303 crore for three years in 2015.

Since the first time in 2011, the per-year winning bid for digital has increased 73 times.

On Tuesday, Disney Star retained TV rights for the Indian subcontinent, bagging it at twice the highest bid of Sony Pictures India’s 11,050 crore at the last auction in 2017. Last time, Disney Star had won the combined rights for TV and digital for a total of 16,348 crore. This time, Viacom18 managed to sweep the digital rights, both exclusive and non-exclusive, for the Indian subcontinent at 23,758 crore.

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