World Cup scores big on eyeballs as viewers tune out non-sports channels


Cricket fans react as they watch a live broadcast of the Cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan. (AFP )

NEW DELHI: The ICC Cricket World Cup is ravaging viewership of non-sports television channels, with viewers switching off general entertainment, news and music channels to watch the game. It’s even denting cinema takings.

Last week, Star Sports 1 Hindi emerged as the second highest watched TV channel in the country across genres after Hindi general entertainment channel Dangal TV, though the two were competing closely even during the IPL in April. With 763 million impressions, it was only slightly behind Dangal’s 806 million.

Though the Star India-owned sports channel has topped BARC ratings in the sports channel category for the past several weeks now, its weekly impressions shot up from 82 million in the end of May to 784 million mid-June.

The network’s other sports offering, Star Sports 2, that only figured irregularly in the top five sports channel list by BARC until end of May, had also notched up 201 million impressions and rank two by mid-June.

Impressions refer to the number of individuals in thousands of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes. BARC India is the country’s TV viewership monitoring agency.

The spike in ratings, to be clearly attributed to the cricket World Cup has also led to an evident fall in viewership for non-sports channels.

Dangal, a free-to-air (FTA) offering and the number one channel in the Hindi GEC (general entertainment channel) category overall and in rural areas, dropped from 854 million impressions at the end of May to 803 million in mid-June. Big Magic, ranked two overall and in rural areas, went down from 717 million to 694 million over the same period. Star Plus declined from 656 million to 612 million impressions and Colors which notched up 533 million impressions in May did not figure among the top five channels in June.

The number one Hindi news channel, Aaj Tak, plummeted from 335 million impressions to 110 million while India TV and Republic Bharat, with fluctuating ranks, went from 193 million to 88 million and from 188 million to 90 million respectively. This decline could, however, also be attributed to a high base reached during the peak election season. The top music channel 9XM, went fell from 184 million to 173 million impressions while Mastiii switched from 146 million to 135 million.

Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd, which owns a clutch of channels including Colors, Rishtey, MTV and Nichelodeon, declined to comment on the reasons in decline of GEC viewership.

“Cricket is a religion in India and the number one sport by a mile. It would be fair to assume that mega-events like the World Cup would lead to fall in viewership for other channels,” said Abneesh Roy, executive vice-president at Edelweiss Financial Services.

The fact that matches go on from 3 pm to 11 pm further affects prime-time TV viewing.

Sports commands a largely male audience while GEC target group is primarily female. That may, however, gradually be changing. Women formed 48% of cricket viewers for 2018 with 342 million viewers according to a BARC report that came out earlier this month.

“While there may be some overlap in viewership across channels, the bigger point is India largely remains a single television household and when there is a choice, on days when there is a match, cricket will be watched,” Roy said.

According to a BARC report published in 2018, 98% of the 197 million TV homes in India still have access to a single TV, which means most people still watch television together.

Ashish Bhasin, chief executive, Greater South, Dentsu Aegis Network and chairman & CEO, India said that since TV advertising follows eyeballs, there could be a 10-15% fall in advertising for some key channels in the short term.

“However, if your content is strong enough, viewers will come back,” Bhasin said.

Box office collections of some movies have also been dented. Trade analysts say Salman Khan’s Eid release Bharat which had made a little over Rs. 195 crore at last count, has lost business of about Rs. 10-11 crore thanks to the World Cup, especially on the two Sundays following its release, which saw India play Australia and Pakistan respectively.

The film would have crossed the Rs. 200 crore mark by now, had it not been for the matches, according to trade website Box Office India.

“While Bharat has suffered a major blow, Hollywood films like X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Men In Black: International (that have earned Rs. 18.80 crore and Rs. 15.60 crore respectively), have also suffered a 30% hit,” said film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar