MUMBAI: Neo Cricket, the dedicated cricket channel from Neo Sports broadcast stable, will begin its journey as an all sports channel starting 3 June under the new name of Neo Prime amid intense competition from ESPN Star Sports, Zee's Ten bouquet of channels and a new entrant Sony Six.
The channel is being built after its cricket content has depleted following the loss of the marquee India cricket rights. The sports broadcasting company has been mulling converting into an all sports channel for quite some time as it is left with only one cricket property, Asia Cup, ever since its contract with BCCI got terminated in December 2011. The Bangladesh Cricket Board rights also expired in April.
Neo Sports Broadcast has a good volume of non-cricket sports which it will distribute across its two-channel network. While Neo Prime will telecast mass sports including cricket, Neo Sports will cater to more niche and special interest products. Plans are also afloat to offer Neo Prime in High Definition.
"We have been planning on the rebranding before a couple of months but it goes through a process as we need Ministry of Information & Broadcasting's approval which we got on Friday," Neo Sports Broadcast COO Prasanna Krishnan tells Indiantelevision.com.
Neo Sports Broadcast will focus on Football, Badminton, Tennis, Hockey and Golf to drive the growth of the two Neo channels.
In football, Neo has the rights for Copa America, German Bundesliga, Serie A and the crown jewel – Uefa Euro 2012, the rights of which it acquired after forking out $11 million.
Hockey is another sport the broadcaster is betting big on. It had recently picked up the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup rights for five years. It also airs World Series Hockey, the franchise based hockey league co-promoted by sister concern Nimbus Sport.
Its tennis lineup comprises French Open, Davis Cup and Fed Cup while in golf it owns the rights to US PGA Tour, in addition to BWF Badminton Super Series in badminton.
"We couldn't continue with the Neo Cricket name with the properties that we had. We had a lot of other sports content," Krishnan says.
Neo Cricket was logical when it had possession of the BCCI rights (which are now with Star India). Admits Krishnan, "Earlier on with the BCCI rights we always had enough of cricket including domestic cricket. So we needed a dedicated channel because of the volumes. But now in the current situation it makes more sense for us to become an all sports channel. We are also having the problem of scheduling particularly during the weekend wherein we had more content than we can could show at a point of time."
Prasanna also points out that other networks like Ten and ESS have channels in addition to cricket that can be used to air events in case of overlapping, something that was missing in Neo since it had only one all sports channel. "We are changing this with our rebranding."
ESPN Star Sports has two channels apart from a cricket channel. Similarly, Ten has Ten Action+ and Ten Golf. "We were having enough live content but were unable to utilise it. So it seemed to be a sensible strategy going forward," he explains.
The rebranding is timely as it precedes the 2012 Uefa European Football Championship, Neo's biggest sporting property. Uefa Euro, hosted by Poland and Ukraine, will take place between 8 June and 1 July.
"We will do marketing campaigns to announce the rebranding. But we also have an advantage as it is happening in the middle of Uefa Euro which will attract a lot of viewers," says Prasanna.
Neo Cricket set to rebrand as Neo Prime