Venkata Susmita Biswas
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Disruption Ahead: Viacom18 emulates the Jio model for IPL 2023

Anil Jayaraj, Viacom18 Sports, CEO, says Indian Premier League will be free to watch on Jio Cinema. The platform is eyeing ad revenue of Rs 3,500-4,000 crore and a reach of 500 million for IPL.

One of the slides on Viacom18’s pitch deck to advertisers boldly states its manifesto: IPL's Jio Moment is Here — A digital disruption in the world of IPL. 

Anil Jayaraj, the chief executive officer of Viacom18 Sports, is charting the course for this disruption. India’s advertising community and viewers already have seen a glimpse of what is to come when the Qatar FIFA World Cup was made completely free to users across telecom operators on the Jio Cinema app.  

“We want to create a digital revolution for premium long-form content,” says Jayaraj, describing in one line Viacom18’s mantra for Indian Premier League (IPL) and all sports content.

According to industry insiders, Viacom18 is eyeing ad revenue of about Rs 3,500 to Rs 4,000 crore. In 2022, Disney+ Hotstar netted around Rs 1,500 crore.  

The disruption that the Mukesh Ambani-backed Reliance Jio-Viacom18 combine plans to bring to IPL is likely to follow a path similar to that of Reliance Jio’s intentions for its telecom foray. Reliance Jio stormed into the telecom sector in September 2016 and brought down the cost of data from about Rs 300 per GB to just Rs 10. It altered the sector forever. 

By addressing affordability it gave access to millions overnight.    

Jayaraj’s blueprint for IPL seems no different. He says, “We are approaching the disruption by identifying three core barriers — access, affordability, and languages — and busting each of them." 

The broadcaster wants IPL to reach every smartphone and connected TV user in the country. Just like FIFA was free to watch, IPL too will be completely subsidised by advertising revenue. Further, the annual cricketing league will be available in 11 languages including Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Punjabi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam — which addresses the language barrier. “We want to ensure that this is the widest footprint of languages that any consumer in India has ever seen,” he says. 

“We are approaching the disruption by identifying three core barriers — access, affordability, and languages — and busting each of them." 

The broadcaster is ambitious about the reach of IPL once all the barriers are removed. It is estimating a reach of 500 million for the cricketing extravaganza. That’s more, way more, than what Star Sports achieved in 2022 for the IPL. 

In 2022, the reach of IPL on TV was estimated to be 360 million and that of Disney+ Hotstar was pegged at 160 million. As one very impressed digital media buyer put it, “The 500 million number is the combined IPL viewership of 2022”. 

Disruption Ahead: Viacom18 emulates the Jio model for IPL 2023

How does Viacom18 plan to do this? 

The factors Viacom18 hopes will work in its favour are the declining number of pay TV connections (down from 130 million in 2020 to 108 million in 2022), unsatisfactory TV viewership numbers in 2022 and the deep penetration of wireless broadband connections (about 700 million).  

“Considering the fact that the core television audience is shrinking, we are going to provide experiences on digital that are dramatically different,” says Jayaraj. He feels that features like multiple camera angles, analysis, play alongs, feeds in different languages, and all other bells and whistles that will drive up engagement on mobile phones and C-TVs will entice viewers. 

The Connected-TV (C-TV) universe is barely 10% of the total TV households universe at about 20-25 million. Yet this section of the audience is one that Jayaraj is excited about. Unlike Disney+ Hotstar which sold C-TV spots on a CPM basis, Viacom18 is selling 10-second spots at a rate of Rs 6-7 lakh per spot. 

“C-TV is the most premium experience for consumers and consumers who had HD connections have either moved to C-TV or are in the process of moving to C-TV,” he says. The interactivity that connected TVs will offer coupled with the 4K resolution video streaming is what he hopes will make viewers prefer a C-TV viewing experience over plain television. 

Viacom18 observes that in metro cities only 1.5 million HD households watch IPL.

"C-TV is the most premium experience for consumers and consumers who had HD connections have either moved to C-TV or are in the process of moving to C-TV."

Jio's media cable (introduced in 2018) that can allow users to stream content from their phones on their TVs could play a role too. Rammohan Sundaram, country head and managing partner at DDB Mudra Group, says this mirroring technology, and new TV purchases, have the potential to almost double the number of C-TV homes and take it up to 40 million. 

Jio Media Cable
Jio Media Cable

Are media buyers confident that Jio Cinema will deliver on its 500 million estimate?

In an internal email, post the acquisition of the IPL’s media rights that was leaked, Jayaraj had said: With this acquisition, Viacom18 will take India’s biggest sporting event IPL to every nook and corner of the country and make it available to every Indian consumer, something that even television has failed to do. 

In the previous iteration of IPL, Disney+ Hotstar estimated a reach of 270 million and delivered about 160 million. Akshat Raizada, national lead — digital trading and investments at GroupM, is confident that Jio Cinema will be able to deliver a number close to the 500 million estimate for three reasons. 

He says, “In the past users had to invest in a cricket subscription or a seasonal subscription to watch IPL. Making it free to everyone means anyone with an internet connection can watch IPL. Further, Jio’s likely merger with Voot could bring incremental reach. Finally, because Jio Cinema belongs to the Jio family of apps and the telecom operator claims a base of about 500 million — they could leverage that user base too.” 

Another media buyer, Mihir Palan, VP - media, Kinnect, is counting on Jio the disruptor. Making IPL free to watch “will get more viewers allowing Jio to serve more impressions on mobile and more ad spots on CTV,” he says.

As per industry executives, this year the CPM for non-targeted ads for IPL is Rs 200 and for targeted ads it is Rs 250. “Viacom18 is already offering better CPMs than Disney+ Hotstar,” adds Palan. For a much lower reach Disney+ Hotstar was offering CPMs in the range of Rs 200-250.

Viacom18 is building out its ad sales team on the lines of global tech giants, say insiders. It has dedicated teams to cater to different sectors like FMCG, auto, BFSI, etc.    

One of the concerns that emerged in the initial part of the FIFA World Cup was that of glitchy streaming. This worried advertisers. Jayaraj says the team immediately swung into action to fix the glitches and now is confident that the platform will be able to handle high traffic during IPL. Shrenik Gandhi, co-founder and CEO, White Rivers Media, says once the glitches were fixed, FIFA was able to deliver an impressive reach of 125 million in the final leg. 

Match analysis on Jio Cinema
Match analysis on Jio Cinema

The cord cutters, the Jio media cable, free streaming, are all expected to “help advertisers reach an audience that has been untouched until now. A set of audience that could only be found on YouTube, perhaps,” says Raizada.   

Sundaram says that while there is bloodbath for ad revenue, the young audiences of today prefer high quality content and are likely to prefer 4K quality content over HD quality video. This too could sway advertisers towards Jio Cinema. 

TV will have a higher impact on metrics like recall but for digital-first brands with limited budgets and need for sharp targeting, Palan recommends a digital-only approach to drive better results. His advice, “In fact, for digital-first brands ideal approach would be to generate reach with Jio and build frequencies using YouTube's IPL pack for further cost efficiency.”

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