There are no plans to charge subscription for IPL: Viacom18's Anil Jayaraj

'For us, FIFA was quite a landmark. It did well on revenue and viewership'

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
Anil Jayaraj

Anil Jayaraj

After airing the FIFA World Cup for free, JioCinema has opted to do the same for the Indian Premier League (IPL). JioCinema is a part of the Rs 4,145-crore (FY22) Viacom18 Media which in turn is a joint venture between Reliance Industries and Paramount Global. In 2021, Bodhi Tree Systems — a platform co-owned by James Murdoch and former Star chief executive officer Uday Shankar — announced it would pick up a chunk of Viacom18 for $1.78 billion. Earlier this year, it pared its commitment to $528 million. Viacom18 will be paying close to Rs 24,000 crore for the digital rights for IPL over five years. As the first season plays out, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar spoke to Anil Jayaraj, the head of its sports business. Edited excerpts:
What has the IPL experience been like so far? Any learnings or challenges?

We started streaming it post the FIFA World Cup and the Women’s Premier League (WPL). These helped us finetune some things we were trying to correct after the FIFA World Cup. Also, IPL is the first property that is exclusively on digital. While we cannot share viewership numbers now, I can tell you that the IPL had 22 million concurrent viewers on April 12 and 24 million on April 17. Both these happened on a weekday. (According to a press release, the TATA IPL 2023 on JioCinema got 1.5 billion video views on the opening weekend. The aggregate figures will be clear only after the IPL ends in May) What is surprising is the depth and width of digital consumption.
Could you share examples please?

For example, we have a promotion called Jeeto Dhan Dhana Dhan. You predict what is going to happen in the next over (wickets, boundary) and win a car daily. Of the 10-12 games so far, what is surprising is the towns people have won the cars are from - Lakhisarai, Hajipur, Mahua. These are really small towns where you would have thought digital penetration will take a while to go deep. That has been truly encouraging.
Second, this year, we have commentary in 12 Indian languages, and for the first time in Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Gujarati, and Odia. What it has done to galvanise consumption, especially if one looks at Bhojpuri and Punjabi, is incredible. For example, if a viewer was consuming in Bhojpuri and you compare his consumption in English or Hindi, the Bhojpuri numbers are 3-4 times of Hindi/English for the same consumer.

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Third, as part of the service, we offer multi-camera (multi cam) and 360 degree views of the field. It gives the viewers a feel of sitting in the dugout. If you want to watch the match only from the stump camera or the bird’s eye view, you can choose to do that. The intuitiveness with which people use these features are surprising.
You were earlier with Star Sports which had both the TV and digital rights for the last IPL. What is the difference operationally when you have both rights?

The context is in terms of time. In 2017, when Star got the rights, it was critical to have both because the digital ecosystem was still expanding – it still had not grown. Broadband speeds were low, so TV was still critical. In the first two years, it was very evident that once you take out the barrier of affordability and the friction around paying for subscriptions, the size of consumption in India was massive. The first couple of years, it delivered hugely for advertisers and viewers. Once it moved to a subscription based model – after 5 minutes, consumers hit a paywall – the business underwent a significant change because we were not able to get many people and there was limited inventory. Also, internet penetration has changed from 2017 to 2022. There are 750 million people online now. If you are making a bet this time, it makes sense to make it on digital.
What are the windows of monetisation on IPL since you are streaming it free? Will JioCinema start charging subscriptions after you reach a certain audience number?

I will answer this in the context of sports only. There are no plans for subscription. The ad model has worked very well for sports. Like everything else, we will keep evaluating this. Whatever objectives we had for the first year, it looks like we will meet them.
Do you see Viacom18 having made money on IPL five years down the line?

We have made a five-year plan. In the first year, we are ahead of plan. If we continue on the same trajectory, then yes, we would do well on this property.
Like for like, what kind of advertising rates does an IPL viewer on digital versus TV get?

Unlike TV ad sales, digital ad sales are different. I can reach 5 million people who want to buy a pen. If you reach only 4 million, you pay only for those. An ad not served (not seen) on digital will not be paid for. It is the reverse on television. On TV, you could be walking away to the kitchen or wherever while the ad is playing. Unlike digital, sports on TV is never sold on CPM (cost per mille or thousand). There is a yearly contract at say Rs 10-12 lakh per ten seconds. It was only towards the end of the tournament that an implied CPM kicked in.
Why are viewership numbers not being shared?

Any ad on digital has a tracker. The advertiser knows the audience he is getting. It is therefore a transparent way of advertising. So advertisers are not worried. The larger number on viewership is about vanity. We will play that game later.
IPL and cricket dominate the sports economy in India. How are other sports doing on JioCinema?

For us, FIFA was quite a landmark. It did well on revenue and viewership. We have a large number of rights outside of cricket. Then we have the LaLiga Cup, NBA, Olympics, and Hockey. They are niche. They are not as big as cricket but are important viewership drivers. WPL was massive. On both viewership and revenue, we achieved twice of what we set out to do. The engagement was high – 50 minutes per game per user. IPL gets just over 60 minutes per game per user.

First Published: Apr 28 2023 | 6:02 PM IST

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