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Restricted IPL coverage could cost news channels Rs 20 crore in revenues

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | March 12, 2010
As IPL authorities and News Broadcasters Association continue to be at loggerheads over the usage of IPL footage, news channels reconsider their strategy

With the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2010 starting today at 8 pm, News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and IPL authorities continue to be at loggerheads over the issue of using archival footage of League matches. News channels were expecting revenues of Rs 20 crore from the tournament coverage.

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NBA members want seven minutes of archival footage per hour, but IPL opposes this. As per the guidelines issued by IPL, news channels can use up to 30 seconds of fresh footage at a time and up to seven minutes in a day; and the footage cannot be repeated more than thrice a day on the channel. Also, there has to be a minimum delay of 30 minutes from the live coverage. The guidelines also restrain websites from broadcasting match footage, archived or deferred.

Recently, Lalit Modi, chairman and commissioner, IPL, tweeted that the issue under debate is how many shows news channels could launch around IPL, and not news per se.

On February 16, NBA announced that its 34 members would not carry any coverage in relation to IPL or its proposed matches; as IPL had refused to abide by its commitment -- as contained in the 2008 norms -- for the use of cricket footage of IPL matches.

Most of the Hindi news channels had planned three to four hours of programming surrounding IPL, out of 18 hours of paid programming everyday; while English news channels had planned an hour of IPL-centric shows, on an average, everyday. But due to the restrictions imposed by IPL, news channels are reconsidering their strategy, and are continuing with the boycott of IPL coverage.

However, experts are of the opinion that both IPL and news channels stand to lose a great deal, if the concerned parties fail to reach a consensus. They maintain that the stand-off has gone beyond "logical reasoning" to "ego clashes".

Indranil Das Blah, vice-president, Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions says, "It needs to be sorted out; else both parties stand to lose a great deal. I think it will be resolved soon, as a similar problem occurred during one Cricket World Cup, which was resolved smoothly after the initial resistance."

A senior official at one of the news channels says that programmes surrounding IPL are sold on 150 per cent premium; and advertisers, who do not have the money to buy slots on SET Max, look forward to these special programmes. However, if these shows did not have IPL branding, it would not make sense to continue with them, and advertisers might hold back their money for later use.

Many experts are also of the opinion that the news channels' loss would not be substantial, as even in the absence of IPL coverage, advertisers would continue buying these channels.

Manas Mishra, head, Mudra Connext, says, "As an advertiser, it is a good idea to be around IPL-related shows on news channels, as they get high ratings during this time. But there will be very few advertisers, who would place their entire strategy around such properties only. Advertisers go there because they want it anyway. So, if news channels don't broadcast these properties, advertisers will continue to be there on the channel, but may take some other property. There won't be much revenue loss for the channels in this case. SET Max has a huge reach; and no one is dependent on news channels for IPL as such."

The news channels are hopeful that the embargo will be lifted soon; in the meanwhile, many channels have taken a smarter route by tying up with the franchisees for special shows. This allows them to showcase IPL-related programming on the channel, without flouting any restrictions imposed by IPL authorities.

While most news channels are lying low and not broadcasting special shows around the tournament; CNN IBN and IBN, which had planned to broadcast more than 300 hours of programming centred on IPL, began their pre-IPL programming from March 01. Some of the IPL-centric shows on the channel are: Cricketainment; Impact of T20 cricket; special shows on the teams from Delhi, Punjab, Kolkata and Mumbai; one-hour special on team owners and players; Kaun Jeetega IPL; Harsha Bhogle Ke Saath and Cricket ka Mahayudh.

Prabhakar, head, CMS Media Lab, is of the opinion that since news channels have an appetizer effect on any event, IPL needs their support. Both would lose if the stand-off continues. "News channels are highly dependent on sports coverage; and since 2005, news channels dedicate 20 per cent of the news to sports throughout the year. With sports being on the top of their agenda, 25 per cent of their viewership might get eroded. Looking at the trend, more than 30 per cent of the news time was expected to be dedicated to IPL related news for a month, when the embargo was not imposed."

If the issue is resolved, IPL would gain too, as there is no other big event lined up, unlike last year, when the coverage was divided between the General Elections and IPL. According to a study by CMS Media Lab, last year, IPL managed 15 per cent of the total news coverage in a month (4,993 minutes of IPL coverage out of 31,858 minutes of news); whereas elections and political coverage got a larger share of 57.67 per cent.

Prabhakar adds that IPL's loss might turn out to be politics' and entertainment's gain. The usual political coverage might see a jump from 10 per cent to 15 per cent; and entertainment might also see a healthy jump from the usual 15 per cent coverage.

This is not the first time IPL has been caught in such a situation; the previous two seasons raised similar issues. In the first season, international news agencies boycotted IPL over the media accreditation guidelines, which imposed a ban on supplying photographs to websites. And in the second season, news channels faced similar issues related to IPL, as in this season.