February 29, 2024

JioCinema, the streaming service backed by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, netted a record number of viewers for the Indian Premier League final — the wildly popular short-format cricket tournament whose digital rights were secured by the billionaire last year.

About 32 million concurrent viewers tuned into the free-to-watch airing of the rain-delayed, then shortened, match, said a spokesperson for Viacom18, the joint venture between Ambani and Paramount Global that owns JioCinema. The close clash, held in the 130,000-person capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, saw popular veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni lead the Chennai Super Kings to a fifth league title.

Viewership was likely boosted by speculation the final would be 41-year-old Dhoni’s last professional appearance, though the former Indian captain signaled he’s likely to return to next year’s tournament.

Focus now turns to whether JioCinema can turn the success of free-to-watch IPL into paid subscriptions. Ambani’s conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. has aspirations to become a global media behemoth and JioCinema has already started charging for content after acquiring rights to HBO and Warner Bros Discovery shows as it takes on giants like Walt Disney and Netflix in the massive Indian market.

Ambani’s media venture outbid companies including Disney to clinch the digital rights to IPL, though Disney — which is facing an exodus of paid subscribers — bagged the television broadcast rights. With a year until the next IPL season kicks off, it’s unclear whether JioCinema can maintain its growth and scale, Mihir Shah, the India vice president at consultancy Media Partners Asia, said in a report this month.

Cricket Revolution

The IPL has revolutionized cricket since its inception in 2008, bringing Bollywood glamor and American sporting glitz to the stereotypically genteel sport.

While the shift away from tradition has put off some fans, others have been enticed by the shorter and brasher format that typically sees a match only last around four hours. Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai is one of them, tweeting his congratulations and commiserations.

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