Riding Cricket

Updated: Mar 31 2007, 07:08am hrs
Cricket is not a sport that conjures up exciting images these days. The premature exit of the national team from the on-going World Cup is hard to digest. Players have made a low-profile entry home, with the fear of a backlash from irate fans looming large. Stakeholders, of course, are still counting their losses on account of the early exit. From advertisers to broadcasters, consumer durable & gaming companies, tour operators, bars, restaurants as well as governing bodies such as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) are all a disappointed lot. The world cup economy, indeed, the cricket economy, as a whole, in

India, runs into crores. As Raj Nayak, chief executive of NDTV Media, who, in his earlier stint at STAR, sold the 1999 World Cup, says, Its a multi-million-dollar industry.

For the ICC alone, the stakes are just too high to be ignored. Almost 60% of the value of cricket telecast rights originates from the Indian subcontinent. Thats huge by any yardstick. Take, for example, the last big transaction it executed a few months ago. It was the bid-out of the global telecast and marketing rights of its tournaments from 2007 to 2015, bagged by ESPN STAR Sports for an estimated $1.1 billion. Its no rocket science that India will be crucial to the broadcasters scheme of things when monetising the investment.

Notwithstanding the lure of cricket, comes the issue of making it available to as many people as possible. Thats where the public broadcaster Doordarshan has stepped in time and again, insisting that the feed of crucial matches/tournaments should be made available to it for telecast into terrestrial homes. The fight has been so intense over the last few years that warring factions have more often than not dragged each other to court. Explains Himanshu Mody, business head, ZEE Sports; The fight really intensified during the historical Friendship Series in 2004, when India toured Pakistan after a number of years. The event was such a political highpoint that the rights-holder Ten Sports was compelled to share the feed with Doordarshan after being dragged to court by the latter.

Indeed, nobody has been spared, be it Ten Sports or Neo Sports, who refused to share the feed of the India-West Indies one-day series with Doordarshan following a seven-minute delay as stipulated by the Delhi High Court, in January this year.

Cup of Woes

Cricket telecast rights in the Indian subcontinent have always been contentious, with the rights holder and pubcaster Doordarshan sparring frequently
A law is in place, which mandates the sharing of ad-free,live feeds, for events of national importance, with Doordarshan
Internationally, especially, in the UK and Australia, the rights holder has to make available free-to-air rights to free-to-air networks for listed events
There is no such clause in the US, which is a free market
Pay-per-view is a popular mode of delivery for
basketball and boxing events in the US. But it is an expensive service

Of course, a law now mandates the sharing of live feeds,without advertisements, by the rights holder with Doordarshan for events of national importance. It also talks of a share of 25% in advertising revenue to be given to the public broadcaster, while 50% will be shared in the case of radio broadcasts. All of this would go a long way in clearing the air during vital cricket tournaments, but not everybody seems happy with it. Opinion stands divided over the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Bill passed unanimously by the lower house of parliament in March this year. Says Rajesh Jain, executive director, KPMG; A mandatory feed would dilute the value of the rights acquired by the holder. I dont know how helpful it would be.

Even more contentious is the issue of encryption of Doordarshans signals in the event of the feed being available to the pubcaster to prevent it from being accessed in neighbouring countries, where Doordarshan has a footprint, or over its free-to-air direct-to-home platform. This matter, in fact, is yet to be resolved, with the committee formed for the purpose to table its report shortly.

How do other cricketing nations deal with the issue of telecast of major cricket tournaments Says R. C. Venkateish, managing director, ESPN Software India; Different countries have different models. The US, for example, is a free market, where the acquisition of telecast rights is treated as a pure commercial transaction. It is up to the rights holder to decide how the telecast should be made available to his subscribers. In the UK and Australia, on the other hand, for certain listed events, there is a must-offer clause, which stipulates that the rights holder must make available the free-to-air signals to free-to-air networks for them to purchase within a certain time frame. If it is taken up, the rights holder is left with the cable & satellite telecast rights only. If not, he has both free-to-air and cable & satellite telecast rights of the tournament.

In the UK, for instance, listed events include the Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon, cricket World Cup matches, where the home nation is playing and cricket matches played in England. Theres also rugby, derby, the World Athletics Championship among other events. Over the years, however, the number of listed events has been coming down in the interest of allied stakeholders, points an analyst based in the UK. The free-to-air channels there include the BBC, which is also the national broadcaster, Channel 4 and ITV.

In Australia, by contrast, the law, say analysts, is very stringent on the must-offer clause concerning free-to-air broadcasters since viewership of these channels is much more than pay channels. By some estimates, the free-to-air to pay channel viewership ratio is almost 76:24 in Australia. Hence the onus on the rights holder to make available free-to-air signals to free-to-air broadcasters is intense, says an industry observer. The concentration of free-to-air channels is also high in Australia, with some of the popular ones including ABC TV, ABC 2 and SBS.

Despite the segregation of cable & satellite and free-to-air terrestrial telecast rights for listed events in evolved markets of the world, it is still a luxury, say observers, to watch sports, especially, popular ones, on television. Says Marcelino Ford-Livene, general manager, interactive content, services and advertising development, Intel Corporation, who was earlier with the US regulator

Federal Communications Commission (FCC); On cable networks in the US, a sports channel is generally embedded in the basic tier, which costs about $35. If the event on the sports channel is a popular one then the package could cost you more, say about $50. However, Internet streaming is a popular mode of delivery in the US.

Given that broadband and PC penetration is high in the US, viewers there can afford to rely on internet streaming for their dose of sporting action. In India, thats not possible, at least not at this stage, when broadband and PC penetration is not high.

The presence of addressable systems makes it easier for broadcasters abroad to monetise their investment on the sporting property acquired.

As Jagi Panda, director & co-promoter, Ortel Communications, a cable and broadband services provider in Orissa, says, All pay channels are routedthrough a set-top-box abroad. If a popular event runs on a sports channel, it could cost a subscriber a lot more. If he wants it, he takes it, otherwise he doesnt.

Pay-per-view is another format used by broadcasters to package a sporting event in a numberof markets including the UK and US, where cable& satellite or direct-to-home subscribers typically pay for a private telecast of the event. This could be on a per-match, per-tournament or per-season basis. In the US, events organised by the NBA or World Wrestling Championship have a strong pay-per-view market.