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Ten Sports adopts virtual advertising for Micromax Cup
Zee Entertainment Enterprise's sports channel, Ten Sports, is providing advertisers an innovative marketing option called virtual advertising in the ongoing ODI cricket tri-series, Micromax Cup.
Virtual advertising consists of a digitally embedded image appearing on TV screens during a live match. It is a seamless insertion of digitised images during live television broadcast. However, the live audience at the venue does not have an access to this innovation as it is electronically embedded and generated on television.

Currently, three brands including Micromax Mobiles, Royal Stag and McDowell are using virtual advertising to reach out to viewers.

Joy Chakraborthy, chief revenue officer and head, niche channels, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, says, "Since the innovation is happening when the match is being broadcast live, nobody can miss it - unlike a regular commercial that happens during a break."

For the innovation, the sports channel has partnered with sports management company Planman Star, a part of the Planman Group.

According to Chakraborthy, Ten Sports decided to partner with Planman Star for the innovation as it has great respect for the sports management company's expertise and understanding of the sports business model.

Without sharing the details of the revenue sharing between the two parties, Chakraborthy mentions that as a broadcasting partner, Ten Sports passes on leads to Planman Star, which taps these prospective clients for virtual advertising.

Planman Star is solely responsible for selling and marketing the virtual marketing innovation to interested clients.

Vikram Tanwar, chief executive officer, Planman Star says that virtual advertising is a fairly popular advertising option in the US with games such as soccer and baseball and with India's most popular sport, cricket, it stands a good chance to catch up with advertisers.

Planman Star is currently offering 15 virtual advertising innovation spots to clients. Giving the rationale behind making only 15 innovations available per match, Tanwar says, "Since it's for the first time such an innovation is happening, we do not wish to irritate viewers with too many exposures. Also, limited number of exposures makes the innovation appealing to brands because the offering remains niche and exclusive."

Tanwar asserts that these embedded imageries, which pop-up when the game is in progress, do not interfere with the viewing experience of the audience because they appear when there is no significant activity in progress on the field. Virtual advertising happens when the field is being set or when a bowler is preparing for a run up before bowling to the batsman.

Both Chakraborthy and Tanwar claim that they are selling the innovation at a premium of 200 per cent over the average cost of a 10 second ad spot commanded by the tournament of Micromax's stature.

It is learnt that the 10 second ad spots for the tri-series has been sold by Ten Sports for Rs 2 lakh.

According to media planners, virtual advertising is surely a property that stands to command a premium over regular commercial spots on the channel.

Sudha Natrajan, chief executive officer and president, Lintas Media Group says that virtual advertising, if used prudently, is a fairly clutter breaking innovation. She says, "It should not be used as a reminder tool - rather, the innovation should be used to highlight specific characteristic of a brand. For example, virtual advertising can be used to launch a new phone. Since the innovation is a little gimmicky, it has to be used to spring a surprise and bring out a particular attribute of a product."

Interestingly, Natrajan adds that the same innovation was adopted by Lintas Media Group for its client, Maruti Suzuki, during the Asia Cup (2008) held in Pakistan.

According to her, due to technology hassles at the broadcasters' end, it was proving to be a difficult task to implement the innovation. However, Natrajan feels that with time, stakeholders involved are in a position to adopt the technology more freely and for many, virtual advertising stands to be a good source of alternative revenue.

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