Zee TV recasts sports rights acquisition arm, drops ideas for sports channel

It's a strategic retreat. Pummelled by the investment community for its wild expansion (its Re 1 face value share has plummetted from Rs 1600 to below Rs 300 in just nine to 10 months), Zee Telefilms Ltd yesterday announced that it was spinning off its sports content provider subsidiary, Buddha Films, into a separate company.

At the same time it closed the doors for the near term on plans to launch its long-talked about sports channel, Zee Sport. The decisions form part of the company's plans to restructure operations in line with AT Kearney's recommendations.

Satish Menon, head of Buddha Films, said sports content will be acquired by Buddha Films and the carriage will be provided by a Zee channel till the separate sports channel is ready for launch.

Asked whether there was any target time frame for the launch he replied in the negative. "When we feel we have all the ingredients in place to make it a success we will go ahead," he said.

Menon said his focus would be on promoting soccer in a big way. "There is a massive scope for developing soccer-centric programming but it has to be tapped," he said. Agreements have already been reached with football federations in Goa and West Bengal and talks were on with the Kerala authorities too, he added.

Discussions were also in progress with All India Football Federation chief Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi for an agreement at the national level. Buddha Films will follow a multi-pronged approach which will go beyond just telecast rights. It will help soccer federations and associations create brands out of their properties besides acquiring club grounds, reports the Business Standard.

Menon said Buddha Films was looking at a three year development schedule. This was an effort which was long-term in its perspective, he stressed.

On the cricket front, Menon said talks WSG Nimbus Pvt Ltd of Singapore for three-year exclusive broadcast rights for international cricket played in Sri Lanka had fallen through. Nimbus' asking price of $25 million for a three-year deal was much too high, Menon said.

Whether Indian couch potatoes, for whom cricket seems to be perfectly suited, will be able to digest soccer only time will tell. Menon certainly is confident he's on the ball in the matter.

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