Television

ESS shifts focus to domestic sports

NEW DELHI: ESPN Star Sports (ESS) is looking at tapping the vast potential and opportunities that is offered by domestic Indian sports apart from cricket.

As a content provider, ESS is also open to get on to a DTH or a HITS (headend in the sky) platform, but some of its concerns relating to "security" of the signals need to be addressed and "clarified."

"We are looking at exploiting opportunities beyond cricket and other games in India and think that domestic (Indian) hockey and soccer offers us this opportunity," ESPN Software India MD R C Venkateish told indiantelevision.com today. He pointed out that the recent telecast of Indian soccer tournaments is a step in this direction.

According to him, with the recent exploits of the Indian hockey team in Malaysia where it became the Asian champs, there would be renewed interest in the game that would augur well for the sports channels too.

In this regard, ESS, Asia's leading broadcaster, today also announced the re-launch of its sports news bulletins - Sportsline and SportsCenter. Sportsline will be in Hindi and SportsCenter will take on more of an international flavour with English as its language.

Though ESPN and Star Sports are diversifying and highlighting other sports like the Formula One races, hockey and soccer (the last two cases being more India-specific now), cricket does continue to be biggest attraction.

Without getting into specifics, Venkateish is bullish on the fact that the two sports channels would "beat the revenue targets" at the end of the current financial year.

ESS CLARIFIES ON DTH

Asked what was stopping ESS from joining the ASC-Zee combine supported the HITS and the DTH platform, Venkateish said, "We are in discussions, but there are some security issues that need to be clarified before we can make any commitments."

"We want to know the security systems that is being used by the service provider(s) and how they are going to protect our interests and guard against piracy of signals," Venkateish explained.

Further asked whether ESS would have raised similar issues if the DTH or the HITS platform had been cobbled together by Star, Venkateish pointed out that such issues would have been raised with any platform.

"As a content provider, we are open to be on all types of platforms put together by anybody as long as our interests are taken care of," he added.

According to Venkateish, talks are on with ASC-Zee's technical team to understand the type of security that HITS and the DTH platform would have. "Due diligence (of the security system) is on by the technical team at the moment," he said, however, refusing to give any time frame for such deals to be concluded.

"India is a different market with its own unique problems like rampant under-declaration and such things cannot be hurried through," he said.

Asked whether ESS would look at hopping on to the platform of national pubcaster Doordarshan's sports channel, Venkateish said, "Once the proposal comes to us, we'll have to study it before we can say anything."

DD Sports is presently mulling auctioning of prime time to private organisations, including sports channels, to showcase their programming and earn some revenue.

NEW PROGRAMMING INITIATIVES

Meanwhile, Jason Dasey, who till now anchored Sportsline will be moving over to SportsCenter and Darain Shahidi, the Hindi speaking sports presenter, will take on the mantle of Sportsline.

Starting 6 October, Sportsline will be telecast in Hindi, on Star Sports every weeknight at 7:30 pm and SportsCenter will be beamed on ESPN every weeknight at 8 pm in English.

Venkateish said, "Market for news is growing in the country and the sports news niche is clearly under-tapped."

Still, ruling out the idea of introducing a sports news channel in the immediate future, Venkateish said, "We were the first ones to launch a full sports news programme in this space three years ago and we continue to go unchallenged. In the last three years we have added fresh initiatives like the India Youth Night, India Soccer Night, India Cricket Night and other innovations to cover various sports persons and sports better."

Coinciding with the re-launch, a spate of fresh initiatives is on the anvil for Sportsline and SportsCentre. A special 26 episode series, titled Do you Know? by Boria Mazumdar, renowned historian retained by the BCCI to chronicle the history of Indian cricket, will start in the second week of

October 2003.

Do you know? will showcase two-minute capsules where Boria will share interesting information from his yet-to-be published work. Each episode will be followed with a quiz by Joy Bhattacharya in English and Darain Shahidi or Sujata Padmanabhan in Hindi.

In line with the India specials India Hockey Night featuring local hockey leagues, hockey players and tidbits on the game will also be launched in October 2003. While a current feature in Sportsline and SportsCentre called CEOs After Hours presents the sporty side of Indian CEOs. Specials called Mera Khel and My Sport will start in October 2003 to present the sporty side of Indian political leaders.

Sportsline, the first live half-hour sports news programme launched in September 2000, has been providing millions of television viewers in the sub-continent a crisp and incisive update of the latest happenings from international and regional sporting events, ESS said today.

SportsCenter and Sportsline will feature special guests from 46,000 sq ft production facility in Singapore. They will access sports news clippings from ESPN SportsCenter, SNTV (Sports News Television), a leading provider of sports news clippings, and Sky Sports.

Cricket clippings from ESS' international cricket productions from five Test playing nations, including Australia, South Africa, England, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, would form a part of the programme. In addition to the international news. India-related news will be handled with resources placed in India.

For every live programme broadcast of SportsCenter, ESS deploys a team of over 20 top-class international news and sports producers, presenters, technical/production assistants, editors and reporting crew. The team delivers a wealth of knowledge and experience from international and regional sports television scene, including ESPN's SportsCenter, TWI, BBC, ITV, Hong Kong's TVB, Australia's Channel 9 Network, TV South Africa and Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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