Sunday, February 6, 2011

It’s an “Ad - Mad” World!!!

“The custodians of the game in India must protect it against the over-commercialization taking place on television. It is annoying, ridiculous and an insult to the game to see an advertisement being squeezed in just because the bowler has not reached the top of his run-up. The telecast in India is unwatchable. Youngsters are missing out on vital commentary, since most comments are cut off the minute an over is called, or when a wicket falls. These are not good signs for Indian cricket, and somebody needs to protect the game from becoming devalued in this manner. Everybody must remember that the advertisers are there to promote the game; the game cannot be reduced to a vehicle that promotes the advertisers.”
-- Steve Waugh (Former Australian Cricket captain)

For all this while, I was naïve enough to believe that I was the only one getting irked by the constant bombardment of advertisements imploding in your face during the match plays, ever increasing in numbers as the number of the matches grew and so did the new breed of cricket channels. This above mentioned comment from Steve Waugh did not bring me solitude, but made me realize the proportions these distasteful acts have generated, maligning the image of our country in the process. But the recently concluded India-South Africa series was monumental in more ways than one. The level to which the broadcasters (Ten Cricket), took the advertisements to, was downright ridiculous, appalling and disgraceful. As a cricket enthusiast I was deprived of the simple viewing pleasure of enjoying the game unobtrusively, i.e. without any hindrances , but instead was subject to a harrowing experience , with all kinds of ‘innovative’ ads ‘exploding’ (yes, you heard that right)in the middle of the ground, behind slip fielders and the L-shaped advertisements which would even drown out the commentary. While the series is over, the ignominy of it all raged inside, prodding me to do something about it. And thankfully, in today’s internet age, there is no dearth in the voices of opinion. From blogs, to social networking sites the web was abuzz with complaints pouring in from every corner of the country, severely criticizing the broadcaster for playing with the consumer’s emotions. One particular comment posted on the “Consumer complaints” website is worth mentioning; “The advertising was intrusive, excessive, disruptive, and noisy and completely negated the viewing 'pleasure', if it could be called that at all.” Indeed it is the pleasure that is being sacrificed for the greed of some. The writer went on to add details of the broadcaster’s address and thereby imploring everyone to raise the issue at every possible forum. Commendable efforts like these have resulted in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) issuing a show cause notice to Ten Cricket (the official broadcaster), “seeking an explanation as regards the beaming of intrusive advertisements during the live telecast of the recent India-South Africa series”. One can only hope now that the notice serves a timely reminder to other broadcasters, to tread more caution while balancing their ‘greed’ with the ‘need’ of the consumer.

In the days when I first started watching cricket, Doordarshan used to rule the roost, and people who are from the same era , would very well be aware of the standards(or the lack of it) we are used to. From dull and droning commentary, to jaded camera works or the colour quality, everything would be of low standards. But above all the most irksome thing would be the constant advertisements. No sooner would a wicket fall, and we would have to deal with the Colgates and the Lifebuoys. When I look at it now, it looks puny in comparison to what we have to deal with at present. With the coming of the 21st century, and a splurge in the sales of Television sets, everyone wanted to cash in on the viewership. Cricket, the most watched sport in the country, was an easy target for advertisers to cash in as it generated the maximum TRPs. Thus we saw a string of channels popping up 'dedicated' to cricket coverage. Even entertainment channels like Sony, and Zee bagged rights for the coverage of major cricketing tournaments, but in all this the quality suffered.

Leaving out Espn-Star, which has been dishing out high quality of cricket coverage for more than a decade now,establishing itself as the numero uno of its genre in the process,(and thankfully the World Cup is being covered by them) the other channels in the fray namely, Zee Sports, Neo Cricket and Ten have done nothing to please the viewers and their sagging reputation. What they lack in content, they try and make it up by squeezing in ads at every possible opportunity. So we are casually deprived of the subtle pleasures of the game like the emotions on the face of the players after some achievement or after any victory.In fact I can safely vouch,that the ardent cricket viewer looks forward to such moments,as while watching the game one does get emotionally involved in it,relishing the success with the players themselves; squashing an ad in between isn't just highly irritating its quite shamelessly toying with the emotions of the viewer.Seeing the happy,cheering faces of the players at the time of an achievement makes one as happy as the players themselves. These are important aspects of the game, and a viewer certainly enjoys them, but enjoyment it seems is a luxury in today’s “ad-mad” world, as it has become quite evident now that emotions aren't something that corporate honchos seem to identify with, all they see is the green buck at the end of the day.
So, while the ads keep increasing manifold as does the viewership with the advent of tournaments like the IPL and Champions trophy. Thus we now have the scenario where ads keep popping out from everywhere on your TV screen during a cricket match. A survey puts it at almost 11 ads per over, i.e. almost two ads per delivery!!! If that is not bizarre here is the comment of Atul Pande, the CEO of Sports Business, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, “"The Indian consumer, or subscriber, pays a very little amount of money to watch very high-quality sport.Possibly the lowest in the world. We are more than happy to give an ad-free feed at a higher price. If there is a customer who wants to look at uninhibited watching of a cricket event, and he is willing to pay a price for it we are more than happy to provide a service. .” That’s downright preposterous if not outrageous, so basically consumers will now have to pay extra to watch something that is our legal right. And how in the world is “ad-free” viewing a premium service?? Isn’t that their obligation?? Clearly these are excuses which no one will be willing to buy.

So, is there any way out?? Yes. Firstly, stricter laws regarding intrusive advertising needs to be implemented, and bodies which are found guilty should be punished, which would act as a lesson for others to follow. The Government has the right to ban any firm not adhering to the rules as mentioned specifically in Section 20 (1) of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. Secondly, greater care should be taken while distributing sponsorship deals, as in, not to give it away blindly to entertainment channels who are in there purely for the greed of it. Though it is understandable that broadcasters too have to make money, but it should by no means be at the cost of taking away the pleasure of watching the game. Lastly and more simply a standard ruling for every broadcaster to follow; of complying with the ICC standards, i.e. 12 minutes of advertising for every hour of match coverage. That should be the norm for everyone, to follow, conforming to which the viewers, the real followers of the game, will heave a sigh of relief and Cricket would have won. And that is ultimately what counts.

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