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Viacom18 turns to Jio playbook for IPL digital broadcast and takes special care to avoid tech snags

Reliance-backed Viacom18 is pulling out all the stops for its upcoming broadcast of the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well as its inaugural edition for women cricketers.

While the media company has the digital rights for the Men’s IPL for 2023-27, it has both the digital and television rights for the Women’s Premier League (WPL) for the same period.

Taking a leaf out of Reliance’s Jio playbook — the company unleashed data-rich services at affordable prices in its initial years — Viacom18 will offer a premium digital experience of the two premier T20 leagues for free to users across telecom operators on its JioCinema app this year.

“Our digital strategy is predicated on three core pillars — access, affordability, and languages,” said Anil Jayaraj, chief executive officer, sports, Viacom18, in a conversation with . “We want to eliminate all barriers to digital consumption and provide premium long-form content to viewers,” he says.

This will include providing the Men’s IPL edition, in particular, in 16 unique feeds in 12 languages, said Jayaraj.

Apart from this, the Men’s IPL will have features like multiple camera angles to choose from, detailed analysis, play-alongs, and a special 4K (four times that of full HD resolution) broadcast (for connected television) to drive up engagement on both mobile phones and connected TVs. Viacom18 is also taking special care to avoid tech and buffering snags that plagued its Fifa (football) World Cup broadcast in November-December 2022. The media company had live-streamed the Fifa World Cup to viewers for free, making it the first such event for a broadcaster in India.

“We are tying up with a technology partner and have put together a strong talent pool of people to handle the tech that will power the IPL,” Jayaraj said. “We are also ensuring that we can handle any capacity (of people), given the large base of internet users in India. In addition to this, we have built other links, which will ensure that there is no breakage in the system.”

The company is also expected to launch its national marketing campaign for WPL and Men’s IPL shortly across media. The campaign will focus on the free coverage of the men’s and women’s editions on JioCinema as well as allied features that will be part of its coverage. The company is also talking to multiple advertisers across categories including automotive, fast-moving consumer goods and beverages to get them on board for the tournaments.

While Jayaraj declined to divulge the names of sponsors lining up for the digital broadcast of IPL on JioCinema, there’s a reason for the company’s optimism.

According to media industry estimates as well as reports by E&Y and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the number of households with pay TV in India is on the wane. From 161 million in 2018, pay TV households slipped to 133 million in 2019, dropping further to 129 million and 125 million each in 2020 and 2021 respectively. In 2022, it was down to 108 million.

In contrast, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India, there are over 700 million active internet users in India, and the figure is projected to touch 900 million by 2025. A majority of the users access the internet through their mobile phone, making it a goldmine for media consumption, experts say.

Jayaraj said that he expected digital viewership for the IPL to surpass that of television, a trend that was visible during the recent Fifa World Cup as well. Business Standard

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