India cricket telecast rights: Zee ups the ante

NEW DELHI: A day after the tenders for BCCI-controlled cricket telecast rights were opened, the action continues to heat up.

Highest bidder Zee Telefilms ($ 260 million) has just upped the ante by committing an additional Rs 945 million for development of domestic Indian cricket, in association with the cricket board.

The Subhash Chandra-promoted Zee Telefilms emerged as the highest bidder for the telecast rights for four years of Board for Control of Cricket in India-organised cricket in India with a quote of $ 260 million. The closest to this punt is ESPN-Star Sports whose bid is about 10 percent lower at $ 230 million.

In a detailed plan for development of cricket, Zee Telefilms has informed the BCCI that not only would it commit additional funds for domestic cricket, but would also partner with the cricket board in turning into reality its dream of taking cricket to newer heights in India and abroad.

Zee Telefilms, which feels that ESS is making unnecessary noises on the bids as it is "feeling the heat from a domestic company", has said that if it emerges successful in winning the telecast rights, cricket would be on the existing network in the first year, while a separate sports channel has been planned for the second year of the deal that should get flagged off from 1 October, 2004.

Contacted by, Ashish Kaul, vice-president, corporate brand development, Essel Group (the umbrella corporate entity for Zee Telefilms and other business ventures of Chandra) said, Zee will ensure that steps are taken to raise the profile of domestic cricket."

Not only has Zee proposed, according to Kaul, the creation of a centralized marketing programme for domestic cricket, but the network channels would also provide support in licensing and merchandising and packaging and promoting domestic cricket tournaments, thus raising the emotional quotient for fans involvement in Indias international series events.

Zee intends to raise television coverage of domestic matches. It will produce live coverage of over 52 days of domestic cricket each year, possibly extending this to as many as 72 days annually, Kaul explained, while detailing the plans that had been conveyed to the BCCI along with the bid.

As part of this game plan, Zee is looking at producing and telecasting live matches of the Ranji Trophy (both one day and first class), Irani Trophy, NKP Salve Challenger Trophy, DB Deodhar Trophy and Duleep Trophy. The focus will also be on live coverage of select matches from university level and Under-19 cricket.

According to Kaul, it is BCCIs vision that Zee proposes to build and nurture in due course. Considering that Zee Telefilms has the infrastructure and the experience in the broadcasting industry and has been the first broadcaster to enter into cable and satellite households (in India), producing and telecasting cricket should not be a problem.

In executing the telecast plans, Zee Telefilms will have the advantage of its affiliate, ASC Enterprises, that owns and operates Indias first KU-band direct-to-home (DTH) satellite platform as well as Siti Cable, the biggest multi-system operator in the country.This makes it possible for any Zee channel to get instant connectivity in a significant number of cable homes, Kaul said, hammering home the advantages the company holds, which could be put to good use for cricket purposes too.

Zee also claim it is Indias largest overseas broadcaster as it owns and operates three channels in the USA, Canada and the Caribbean, four channels in the UK, two channels in Europe, one each in Africa, Australia /New Zealand, four channels in the Middle East and six channels in the Asia-Pacific.

Lastly, Zee Tele has also pooh-poohed critics who have said Zee, despite being the bidder for BCCI cricket, does not have any experience in producing and telecasting cricket. We have shown cricket quite extensively on our network abroad, Kaul added.

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