By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, Feb 16 (IANS) The World Cup begins Saturday but entertainment channels are not fretting about losing too many viewers or advertising. They are safely banking on their dedicated female viewership that is hooked on to their daily dose of soaps and cricket lovers who would only be watching select matches this year.
Channels' spokespersons say that the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, which starts Saturday, won't affect their business much because cricket has become an all-year phenomenon, and Indians at large watch only selected matches involving the home team.
"Cricket is now a 365-day phenomenon and so there is no point in planning life around the cricket calendar. Also during the World Cup it's primarily the India matches that get the high ratings. Otherwise the loyal GEC (general entertainment channel) audiences pretty much stay with us - cricket or no cricket," Nikhil Madhok, senior director (Marketing and Communication) with Imagine TV, told IANS.
Madhok asserted that cricket affects ratings of GECs by "only 10-15 percent in prime time".
"Usually genres like news, movies, regional and cable are affected much more than GECs," he added.
A Zee TV spokesperson said: "Some India matches may affect ratings but good storylines and loyal viewership to fiction shows stand their own stead."
That holds true as many women find their daily dose of drama only through cranky soaps, comedy or reality shows.
"My husband and son are crazy about cricket, but there are very few times when they have their way with the remote. So I watch the TV shows I love uninterrupted," said Madhavi Mishra, a 45-year-old housewife.
It is thanks to such dedicated audiences that the viewership chart doesn't skew too much even during World Cup.
According to a presentation by TAM Media Research, during World Cup 2007, female viewership of GECs declined by just six percent.
The advertising expenditure on entertainment channels also remains unaffected to an extent, said Ajit Thakur, business head, Sony Entertainment Television.
"Advertisers invest on GECs for 12 months, so it's not in the best of their interest to withdraw their money temporarily for the sake of spending it on a niche genre like sports," said Thakur.
Industry estimates indicate that channels like STAR Plus, Colors, Zee TV and Sony charge anything around Rs.150,000 for a 10-second advertisement to be aired during prime time.
For sports channels, an ad has varied costs depending on the scale of the sports event. During the T20 cricket tournament, an ad could cost Rs.200,000-Rs.250,000 for 10 seconds.
During the upcoming World Cup, ad rates on sports channels are expected to be around Rs.225,000-Rs.250,000, which might escalate to Rs.350,000-Rs.400,000 towards the finals.
This time the World Cup is returning to India after 15 years. So, many cricket aficionados will be catching the action live.
But ESPN STAR Sports, the broadcaster for the World Cup, is confident of good viewership.
"There is nothing bigger in the world of cricket than the ICC Cricket World Cup and an event as big as this, especially when it is held in the subcontinent, evokes passion and excitement like none other," said Manu Sawhney, managing director, ESPN STAR Sports.
"We are committed to bringing alive this passion for the game to fans all across the globe in the most engaging manner. We are therefore launching many first of its kind initiatives during this edition, including a special Hindi feed for select matches, HD production and live match coverage through 3G mobile streaming," he added.
The ESPN STAR Sports' bouquet of networks, including ESPN, STAR Sports and STAR Cricket, will telecast 49 matches of the World Cup and in addition, 37 matches will be simultaneously telecast in Hindi on STAR Sports.
Entertainment channels like Colors, Star Plus, Imagine and Sony have also recently launched new reality as well as fiction shows to grab eyeballs.
Imagine TV, in fact, will launch its big ticket show "Shaadi 3 Crore Ki" during the World Cup, while Zee TV plans to offer high points in its shows.
"We will schedule high points and recaps of shows in such a manner that audiences don't miss out on their favourite shows. We believe fiction rules among television households in India. During weekends, good movie titles and events will be placed to counter it (the World Cup)," said a Zee TV spokesperson.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at email@example.com)