The real picture, he says, will begin to emerge post this edition. “We should wait for that,” he told TOI in an exclusive chat, emphasising how badly the overall advertising system has been wedged due to the raging pandemic.
“The overall advertising system is badly impacted. The IPL will draw in a lot of money from the advertiser in search of visibility. However, outside the IPL, the challenge will continue to be very strong,” he said, further explaining reasons for it.
“The volume of advertising has been impacted. So, for non-IPL media to get advertising at the same scale will be tough because advertisers will look to reallocate. That’s what we’re seeing now”.
Shankar says, to consider advertising in the IPL as a trend would be hasty because the premier T20 league’s business and viewership has a niche market and should be okay.
“The normal picture will begin to emerge once the IPL is over. We should not use the IPL to rush to conclusion that everything is normal,” he added.
Shankar is clear that ‘had BCCI cancelled the IPL this year due to Covid’, he couldn’t have complained and therefore he compliments the board and its office-bearers’ commitment to the tournament and the effort taken in pulling it off.
“The advertisers didn’t have a great opportunity (to advertise) for the last several months. With them looking to get their businesses back on course, there was no better opportunity available than the IPL, especially with the tournament happening during festival time and that credit goes to the BCCI. What we’ve seen is the IPL is so big that everybody is coming out with a desire to advertise. But until the economy is back, the rest of the industry will continue to struggle,” says Shankar, underlining once again how the T20 league happens to be a unique television / digital property connecting the sport and economics in India like no other.
The 58-year-old journalist-turned-entrepreneur also adds that “there are other forces that have been at play,” hinting at the massive onset of digital technology that has further eaten into television revenues in recent times.
“The commercial value that can be exploited from television has been under severe pressure, not so much in India yet but everywhere else globally,” he says.
The bigger picture – which is largely the outcome of inertia of the last 10-15 years – vis-à-vis how media rights owners have fought among themselves when there’s more money coming – “that model is largely becoming unsustainable, especially in the present context,” Shankar adds.
It essentially boils down to three factors. A) The changing market trends; B) How long the pandemic continues to destroy the existing economics; C) What kind of a jump has technology taken in the last few months, thanks to Covid-related lockdown, ensuring people become more dependent on ‘delivered’ content, especially in sports.
“Ideally, all of us want to be on the ground and watch a game. Because that can’t happen right now, we’re looking at other mediums — like TV, laptops, mobile phones or radio. But, the pandemic will go away some day. There’ll be vaccines, there will be treatment available and there’ll come a time when people will go back to their lives, continue doing what they were doing,” says Shankar. “Right now, everybody is freaking out and it’s quite evident and understandable, why”.
However, he’s of the view that adherence to broadcast mediums won’t affect live sport the way it’s being perceived and that one form of viewership / following won’t kill the other. The world, he says, will become normal some day and when that happens, from the perspective of live sport, people will want to go back to the stadium.
But, will they?
“What you’ll see is all these forms have continued to exist. One hasn’t killed the other. Live broadcast has not killed stadium attendance. If anything, it has only enhanced stadium attendance. Similarly, live stadium attendance and broadcast hasn’t killed what mainstream news media does. When I had started out in the news industry, a match used to have one report in a newspaper. Today, there are match-reports, analysis, quotes, statistics and columnists sharing expert comments.
“What does it tell you? That engaging with fans has become deeper and wider over a period of time. The need for greater coverage, deeper nuances, finer analysis, etc. is never ending”.
Shankar is of the view that the other fundamental impact the pandemic will have is that the use of technology to leverage, fine tune and deploy greater creativity for superior fan experience is going to get much better.
“Technology was always there. But what the pandemic has done is, it has brought the technology front and centre. The role of technology, in creative reinvention/imagination, is going to be a lot more central than it is today,” he says.