In its seventh season, the tournament again launched a first of its kind initiative, this time for the digital platform. Starsports.com streamed the 2014 Indian Premier League (IPL) player auctions held in Bengaluru on February 12-13. The streaming was supported by a full broadcast show produced with expert analysis from Sourav Ganguly, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Harsha Bhogle, Aakash Chopra, Sanjay Manjrekar and Deep Das Gupta.
Starsports.com's video timeline also allowed the viewer to keep track of live events with ease. The timeline feature helped those coming in late to catch up on the most important events of the day with editorially curated markers that allowed users to easily control the viewing experience.
Apart from near-live digital streaming (with a five-minute time lag) of the event, the auction was broadcast live and exclusive on Sony Six and Sony Six HD. For the last three years, the auction has been broadcast live on TV but never before has the event been such a talk of the town. It was telecast on air in 2011 and 2012 on SET Max; and in 2013 and now, on Sony Six.
Neeraj Vyas, EVP and business head, SET Max, says, "Most certainly, it has created a lot of buzz and added to the momentum of the initial promotions of the tournament. That's the reason we have blocked two full days to telecast the event live. If you consider the tweets and news reports that were flooded with the auction updates and analysis, I think it was a great step." This, he says, was the biggest auction of IPL owing to both, awareness about the game (absent in the first edition) and the fact that almost all the players (514) were in the ring.
This was also the largest auction in IPL in terms of the number of players, number of teams and even the amount of money floating in the bids. Plus, the absence of the Pune team resulted in a lot of shuffling as all its players were on sale.
The 2014 Pepsi IPL Player Auction became a talking point in the country as the bidding process rolled out digitally. Twitter hashtags and Facebook mentions were abuzz with every bid and buy. As per official stats, the highest talked about point of the entire auction was Yuvraj Singh being bought for Rs 14 crore and the controversy surrounding the bid by two suitors. The fact that Singh got so much money at an early stage of the auction added to the interest among fans.
"One of the reasons for not live streaming auctions earlier could be that unlike any other digital company, we are storytellers - we create content. The big difference was not just that we were streaming the auctions on Starsports.com, we were producing a 'TV quality' show. We have experts having a conversation, going in and out of the auction. So, we produced content that was of TV quality and then aired it on Starsports.com," says Ajit Mohan, head of digital business, STAR India.
Besides live streaming and TV broadcast, many media sites also ran live coverage, together with Twitter users. Twitter India trends were occupied by the IPL auction with hashtags #IPLAuction, #PepsiIPLAuction trending at the top.
Meanwhile, IPL title sponsor Pepsi India conducted a contest on Twitter with @ThatPepsiIntern, an extension of the campaign where brand ambassador actor Ranbir Kapoor, as an intern, will bring all the thrill and action from Pepsi IPL 2014 to cricket fans.
Pepsi got Ranbir to tweet about his new job and what's happening at the event. Users could ask him questions using the hashtag #AskThatPepsiIntern, and Ranbir obliged.
Pepsi is now looking for the next intern who will have the most exclusive job at the Pepsi IPL, with access to events and activities, and serve as the link between fans and celebrities. He or she will get to attend the matches and also get an exclusive first-hand experience of the glamour and excitement of the Pepsi IPL.
Besides the contest, the hashtag #IPLAuction dominated Twitter trends for two consecutive days.
In January, STAR India licensed the digital distribution rights for IPL 2014 from Times Internet, the digital arm of the Times of India Group. As a part of the deal, STAR India will offer streaming and video on demand on Starsports.com, the Star Sports app, and on mobile operator services powered by STAR Sports.
"Brand IPL is fairly big, and for us it was to make it even bigger than last year. We communicated it through digital marketing. Also, we ran ads across the network channels on the auction days, asking people interested in watching IPL to go to Starsports.com. It brought in an audience which otherwise wouldn't have tuned in at the right time. We were pleasantly surprised with the huge surge in traffic on Starsports.com yesterday," says Mohan.
Mohan adds that the live streaming of the auction was also a part of the strategy to build the buzz digitally for IPL, but how successful was it?
Anupam Mukherjee (aka Fake IPL Player), founder of PitchInvasion.in, has been a close follower of the IPL auctions as he was involved in a live online radio programme on PitchInvasion.in on the auctions. He adds that this was the perfect opening for an IPL season.
"It was a great idea to stream the auctions live on the internet. And, since the marquee players were auctioned in the beginning, it added to create the buzz. Besides, the online streaming also saw a lot of international viewership as most international players are available for the season and cricketing countries, especially Australia and England, have always seen players performing well in IPL," says Mukherjee.
Ever since its launch in June 2013, Starsports.com has been drawing nearly 28 million unique visitors every day, with about 45 minutes spent per match. These numbers - comparable to television - are the highest ever on the digital platform. Experts believe Starsports.com has developed a very good video streaming platform and this will help in gaining better numbers digitally as compared to the initial years.
On the subject of IPL streaming rights, Mohan believes that despite the five-minute delay in streaming, IPL is sure to generate a lot of viewership on the digital platform.
"There is a habit of watching the event on mobile and other portable devices, so the idea is to leverage our platform and provide a much better consumer experience and advertising solution, and deploy it for IPL, where there is already a habit, and increase the numbers even more as against last year," Mohan concludes.
(With additional inputs from Prachi Srivastava)