Cricket and Bollywood have been an integral part of most Indian households as the primary sources of entertainment for long now. They are also the common ground on which Indians connect with each other and build a societal bond. Yet, one of them is losing its place, at an alarming pace. Ruchir Sharma draws lessons from comparing how cricket has rose in stature just as Bollywood’s fortunes have dwindled, for the broader economy.

“Cricket’s growing popularity rests on the Indian Premier League. Since its launch in 2008, the estimated value of the IPL has risen from $1.1bn to more than $15bn. This year, the two-month season drew nearly 1bn viewers from live broadcast and streaming. Last year, the IPL sold five-year broadcast rights for $6.5bn — a higher per-game price than many other pro sports, including England’s Premier League.

Meanwhile, Bollywood’s box office take had been trending down for many years before falling sharply during Covid, with yearly footfall down from 340mn to 190mn, and revenue of $190mn so far this year — down nearly half from the same period in 2019.”

So what’s cricket got right that Bollywood is missing:
“The IPL understands and has adapted to the attention spans of the digital age. Its key innovation was shortening match times to under four hours, plus staging the full-on party that fans now expect: cheerleaders, DJs, dancing mascots and brightly coloured uniforms. Its streaming services allow viewers to pick a camera angle. Inspired by the IPL, Indian billionaires recently launched pro cricket in the US, aiming to draw American and Indian expat crowds to minor league stadiums where samosas will be on sale alongside hot dogs.

Bollywood, by sticking to stale scripts and ageing stars, is losing Indian audiences even at home. The industry blames Covid for changing viewing habits. But Hollywood was affected by Covid, too, and its box office take is down by nearly one-fifth, not Bollywood’s half. Young Indians used to look forward eagerly to Friday for the next big Bollywood release — that era is gone.”

The fortunes also reflect the economic heft of India outside the Hindi heartland:
“Cricket speaks to the whole of India in a way Bollywood never has. Less than half of India’s population speaks its dominant language, Hindi, but Bollywood keeps rolling out films made for a Hindi-speaking audience. It is losing ground to increasingly vibrant regional film industries. India’s top grossing film last year was the Kannada language action-thriller K.G.F: Chapter 2; Bollywood scored none of the top five. Tamil and Telugu films attract more viewers than Hindi movies. Meanwhile, the IPL offers live match commentary in 12 languages on its streaming services.”

Sharma ends with a scathing attack on Bollywood’s nepotism as a cause for its decay:
“Bollywood dates to the 1930s, when its home city of Mumbai was still called Bombay, and its management style is as outdated as its name. Resting on family ties and a star system that allows its leading (often ageing) actors to command a solid majority take of the profits on each film, there is little left to fund better productions or new talent.

By spreading the wealth the IPL is building momentum, sharing TV revenue and capping player salaries to make sure even small city teams can compete. It recruits talent from India’s least privileged corners. Rising star Yashasvi Jaiswal, 21, the son of a small shopkeeper in the poor state of Uttar Pradesh, lived for a time on the cricket grounds in his early training years.”

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