Television

Cricket rights: dealmakers on the prowl

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MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Who all would bid for the telecast rights of BCCI-organised home series? Or, who won't ? Who are the serious players? How are the rights likely to be thrown open for bidding and in what format?



Questions galore, but the picture remains hazy. Especially as regulatory changes, being contemplated by the government, may upset calculations.



According to information available with indiantelevision.com, the bids for the home series are likely to be split up into three categories-domestic, international and broadband. A source familiar with the process said that this would help BCCI maximise returns from sale of rights as also lessen confusion up to an extent.



Though the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), one of the richest sports bodies in the world, has not yet finalised the calendar of events and the modalities for the biding process --- which would have an impact on the periodicity of rights agreement --- it is expected that a four-year period would be decided on.



Even as the industry is abuzz with murmurs of various deals and collaborations being mulled, the one that takes the cake is that the Rupert Murdoch-controlled News Corp too has jumped onto the cricket telecast rights bandwagon. It is said to be stitching a deal, which may also include World Sport Nimbus.



This deal, which is likely to give Murdoch companies access to cricket rights as also airtime management outside India, is on the lines that was done during the last cricket World Cup where Murdoch bought out WSN in a joint venture that was handling the ICC telecast rights.



AND THE PRIZE GOES TO...



ESPN Managing Director RC Venkateish



Let us now come to the likely bidders. The list includes companies like ESPN-Star Sports, Ten Sports, Sony Entertainment TV India, Indian pubcaster Prasar Bharati (Doordarshan and All India Radio) , Nimbus, Zee Telefilms and dark horses like Sahara and Reliance.



Nimbus communications chairman and MD Harish Thawani



Sensing that the BCCI rights would be crucial, two companies, ESS and Nimbus, have already made a master move --- approach India's national broadcaster DD for collaboration. While officials in Prasar Bharati confirmed offers from both the parties, sources in Nimbus did not confirm or deny the development.



ESS has offered Prasar Bharati collaboration with DD for India rights. It has offered live telecast of all ODIs played under the BCCI contract at a fee of Rs 10 million per match, and Rs 500,000 per hour for daily highlights of Test matches.



Prasar Bharati CEO Sarma



As per the proposal given to DD, ESS would "retain and sell all the commercial inventory on the above programming telecast by DD and share 10 per cent of its total revenue with it." In return, DD will not be required to bid for television rights nor shell out anything for production either.



Industry feels that if this deal comes through, it'd put ESS-DD in the driver's seat, but Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma told indiantelevision.com today that no decision on the two offers have been taken yet.



Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani



Pointing out that such decisions cannot be taken in the absence of data on what is on offer from BCCI, Sarma said, "We would like to keep all our options open, including bidding independently." ESPN India was not available for comments.



The beauty of the ESS proposition is that the government and the public alike are unlikely to raise a ruckus even if the bidding process is shrouded in secrecy. As long as DD manages to lay its hand on a good deal and cricket, things would be fine.



Still, industry sources insisted that the Nimbus offer to DD is a 'far interesting one, which can result in win-win for both the parties.'



Sahara India promoter Subrata Roy



But with Samajwadi Party political heavyweight, Amar Singh, muscling his way into cricket management through Cricket Association of Bengal, the Sahara angle cannot be glossed over. The diversified group is the sponsor for the Indian cricket team and the group promoter Subrata Roy's friendship with Singh is well known.



Zee Telefilms has burnt its fingers in the past over cricket rights, but it has got active in this arena again. Though ESS emerged victorious in case of the just-concluded Asia Cup, the other two bidders were Nimbus (not World Sport Nimbus it needs noting) and Zee. Nimbus bid for $ 9 million and Zee $ 7 million, information available with indiantelevision.com indicates.



Suffice to say that when the India rights are finally given away, expect to see more of what may appear on the surface and lots of googlies.

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