ESS lines up elaborate plans for Natwest Series

MUMBAI: There may be only three matches in next month's Natwest Series between India and England. However, as with the English Premier League (EPL), ESPN Star Sports (ESS) has come up with a host of innovative specials to hook viewers further.

Speaking to ESS' spokesperson Himanshu Verma said, "As was the case with the Asia Cup, we will simulcast the NatWest Challenge. The three ODI's on 1, 3 and 5 September will be simulcast in English on ESPN and in Hindi on Star Sports.

"Our simulcast for the Asia Cup led to a 12-20 per cent increase in viewership on account of the Hindi feed. During the tournament, the combined channel share of ESPN and Star Sports was higher than any other channel among C&S males 15+ SEC ABC."

One of the specials the channel has lined up is Pitch Doctor. As the name implies this involves pitch analysis before the match. Geoffrey Boycott on ESPN in English and Waqar Younis on Star Sports in Hindi will anchor it.

Then there is the innovatively titled Ministry of Cricket. Here, former Australian opener Michael Slater will analyse the strength and weaknesses of the sides. Former Indian spinner Maninder Singh on Star Sports will do the Hindi version Mani Sir Ki Class.

A trademark special of ESS is the Shaz & Waz lunchtime chat show. For the uninitiated, the special is hosted by former all rounder Ravi Shastri and Wasim Akram. As has been the case in the past, a person voted by the viewers joins them in the studio. In addition with the Fly On The Wall, Gautam Bhimani travels among the crowds getting reactions and snippets from them.

Players Up Close & Personal profiles the players coming in. What is different here is that caricatures will be used instead of pictures. Gillette will sponsor the Push Clean Facts segment. This will give viewers facts and trivia about the game coming out of a razor.

Samsung, Close Up hop on board: The presenting sponsors of the tournament are Samsung and Close up. The associate sponsors: are Pidlite, Castrol, Perfetti, Pepsi, LG, Gillette, Bharti. Verma however added that since the tournament was of such a brief duration only print advertising in key markets would be used.

One of the contests around the tournament is the Pepsodent Man Of The Match. Here viewers have to SMS MOM followed by the player's name to a given number. If this coincides with the man of the match, they stand to win prizes. Then there is the Samsung Mobile Super Selector. Viewers can play these on their mobile and win daily prizes and also the series prize.

Offering an industry perspective on cricket, Nimbus senior VP Sunil Manocha felt that the sponsor visibility for the earlier mentioned Asia Cup was affected as the tournament had not been promoted well by either the tournament's organisers or by DD and ESS, both of whom had aired the tournament.

"The interest on cricket rests strongly on marketing and promotional activity used to create hype. That will affect the pull of the sport more than the fact that India cricket is on every month. I don't think that viewer fatigue will set in soon. As long as the various marketing channels are used properly cricket will continue to attract viewers and as a result advertisers," says Manocha.

"It would have been very difficult for ESS to recover the Asia Cup costs incurred through acquiring the broadcast and sponsorship rights. Videocon did not get much mileage from the recently concluded Holland Cup (on Max) as most of the matches were rained out," he added.

According to him, both the Natwest Series and the upcoming Champions Trophy on Max will benefit the broadcasters because they come during the media buying season.

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