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Day-Night Tests may not immediately boost test match viewership, but for brands, they can refresh the audience

The oft quoted refrain about test matches is that they have had poor viewership, both in-stadia and on television/streaming, relative to limited overs formats. One idea to revive it that has been toyed around with for a while now was to change test cricket’s penchant for being a day-only format (a tradition born of English conditions and the long summer days). When delivering the Dilip Sardesai memorial lecture in 2018, former Indian cricketer and current commentator and analyst, Sanjay Manjrekar, was unequivocal in his reasoning:

“The only way to get more people to watch Test cricket, increase its viewership, popularity and thereby its quality is day-night Test matches. Why aren’t we playing more day-night Test matches, when it’s a no-brainer that it will draw more viewership.”

Manjrekar had some anecdotal hindsight. The inaugural day-night test (held in 2015 at Adelaide) between Australia and New Zealand had been a massive success. It set a viewership record in Australia, drawing a peak TV audience of over 3 million in the country, a number that compared very favourably to the peak audience of 4.2 million for the most watched ODI that year – the World Cup final that the Aussies won. Since then, there have been 10 more tests stretching either side of sunset in 6 countries, with the inaugural one in England (v West Indies at Edgbaston in 2017) also attracting healthy viewership. But the sample remains too small to draw any definitive conclusions about whether viewership will permanently jump because of the time slot the test match appears in. 

That however does not make the inaugural day-night test match in India (at Kolkata) any less momentous. It’s a test match against a team that is not a traditional test match powerhouse – Bangladesh. But the fact that Sourav Ganguly and the BCCI fast-tracked the staging of this format (India looked like they would only play their first in 2020 and that too not at home) suggests that they see both potential and viability. They seem to be pulling out all stops in marketing to ensure a good turnout. After all, a lot of the action will take place post typical work hours. 

What shifting test match telecasts to prime time can do is even without an increase in the quantum of viewership, it could help diversify the audience. A part of the audience that tunes into the IPL is likely to tune into portions of the test as well, and those are eyeballs worth building upon. Brands that associate themselves with cricket often feel they are reaching out to a similar demographic, but lately those notions have been challenged (not least by a recent ICC survey on cricket viewing) and experiments such as the second test between India and Bangladesh will provide further fertile ground to check out a different approach. 

Day-Night tests will probably be like the ‘night mode’ a lot of smartphone apps have introduced. Initially the feature was met with ‘why do we need this’ sort of scepticism. But experience on major platforms suggests (Twitter users on Android demanded the ‘lights out’ mode after the site launched it for iOS devices, Facebook is reportedly testing a similar feature) that users have come around. Odds are, the biggest cricket viewership in the world will follow a similar trajectory.

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