MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: Sony Entertainment Television India reacted with outrage today to an announcement by Harish Thawani's Nimbus Communications that national broadcaster Doordarshan (DD) has entered into an arrangement with News Corp controlled Global Cricket Corporation (the worldwide rights owner) for enhanced coverage on its terrestrial networks of the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup.
SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta asserted that Sony would seek unspecified damages from the GCC if DD were given the rights to offer a delayed telecast of any match outside what had already been granted to the national broadcaster. Dasgupta said that if DD wanted to air any match other than the 16 'Big Gun' matches on DD National (all India matches, 2 Semi Finals and the Final) for which it already had telecast rights, it could only do so after the World Cup was over.
Dasgupta further dismissed as "kite-flying" a report that appeared in a leading financial daily Monday that rival ESPN-Star Sports had inked a deal with DD to do the presentation of pre and post-match fixtures as well as during the lunch and tea intervals.
The initial agreement DD had entered into with Nimbus (the revenue management company for World Cup telecasts over DD) covered the live telecast of 16 'Big Gun' matches as well as 43 daily one hour Highlights on DD national. According to an announcement made to indiantelevision.com, Nimbus had stated that it had entered a new deal with DD covering the telecast of a total of 43 matches, including the 'Big Gun' matches, on DD Metro. All matches on DD Metro will be telecast on a delayed basis starting 9:30 am on every day of the Cricket World Cup, which lasts 43 days, the announcement said. If this is true what it means is that in addition to the rights for the live telecast of 16 matches, DD had secured the rights for delayed telecast of an additional 27 games.
Dasgupta said that if DD went ahead with the plan as had been announced then Sony would sue.
When contacted for a response to the assertions that Dasgupta had made, Thawani said he had no comment to make.
Keeping aside the merits or otherwise of the stances taken by the opposing players in the thrust and parry skirmishing that is going on, the stakes in this game are huge. After ambush marketing add another word to the lexicon - ambush programming. Whatever may be Dasgupta's assertions, if ESS manages to pull this one off it would definitely be a major coup for India's leading C&S sports broadcast network. Through this ESS would continue to remain in the mindspace of cricketing audiences without having had to shell out a dime for the rights.
According to Dasgupta, the move by ESS was legally untenable as the sports broadcasting network was a GCC affiliate. This would by extension mean that the rights holder GCC, after having sold the C&S telecast rights to Sony (for $ 255 million) was now actively working to scupper Sony's commercial interests, Dasgupta said. ESS is a GCC affiliate by virtue of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp being a 50 per cent stake-holder in the ESPN Star Sports joint venture. News Corp has the controlling stake in GCC.
DD sources, meanwhile, while admitting that no deal had been inked as yet with ESS, said discussions were on. At the time of uploading this report, indiantelevision was unable to get an official response from ESPN Software India MD Manu Sawhney on the matter as he was not in Delhi.
Sources in DD further confirmed that director-general DD SY Quraishi had been in Mumbai today and had had discussions with Thawani regarding the issue of delayed telecast of matches on DD Metro. The DD sources confirmed Quraishi was in Mumbai to finalise the scheduling of the matches to be aired on DD Metro.
Prasar Bharati officials that indiantelevision.com spoke to appeared quite confident that they were on firm legal ground in the matter. According to the officials, the arrangement DD and Nimbus were entering into covered an area that the original contract (that Sony signed on to) had not envisaged. "Moreover, if it is going to be a delayed telecast, why should Sony get so upset," they ask.