BSkyB tightens grip on UK sports telecast with 4-year cricket deal

MUMBAI: One more of Britains crown jewel sports is set to fall completely off UKs terrestrial television map and into the all-encompassing embrace of BSkyB.

The £200 million that Rupert Murdochs DTH operator has put on the table in a deal announced yesterday will give Sky Sports exclusivity to all live international as well as domestic cricket action in the UK.

Englands cricket chiefs announced a four-year deal running from 2006 to 2010 that will make next summer's Ashes series against Australia the last time that viewers in Britain get to see their national Test team live on FTA TV.

The four-year deal running from 2006 to 2010 that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has entered into - which includes television, radio, mobile and internet rights to domestic and international cricket - will bring in a total of £220 million ($425.6 million). This is an effective increase of about 10 per cent on the current three-year deal when Channel Four and BSkyB had a joint contract to cover England home matches live. The ECB has signed deals with BSkyB, Channel Five, BBC Radio and TalkSPORT.

While the deal is being decried by many commentators in Britain as long sighted on the cash component and shortsighted on the long term future of the game, there is no getting away from one bald truth. And that is that it was only BSkyB that was willing to offer terms that actually increased the amount going into ECBs coffers. Channel 4 had as good as declared itself incapable of offering even what it has been doing thus far after reporting an operating loss of £2m-£3m a year on the game. As for the BBC, which realistically speaking was the only FTA broadcaster with the financial muscle to take on BSkyB, it had reportedly withdrawn from the bidding as early as October.

BBC Radio retains exclusive radio commentary rights while the Wireless Group, owner of Talksport, gets non-exclusive rights to provide live commentary of Twenty20 Cup matches.

While making its announcement yesterday, the ECB chose to stress the point that terrestrial TV was not totally excluded from cricket telecast. The softener as it were is that Channel Five gets to telecast a daily highlights package. The hitch of course is that Britain's most recent mainstream channel is serious small fry when it comes to accessibility in comparison to the Beeb or 4.

And a point brought up by Lord MacLaurin, the former chairman of the board is worth noting. Cricinfo quotes MacLaurin as saying that he had promised the government in 1998 that coverage of Test matches would be kept evenly split between satellite and terrestrial television in return for them dislisting cricket. According to the Cricinfo report, until that time, TV coverage of Tests had to be on mainstream television as one of the so-called "crown-jewel" events that include Wimbledon, the Derby and the FA Cup final.

Taking the the cricket tale as a case study, it is not too far fetched to visualise a situation in 2010 wherein Murdoch has managed to get Wimbledon, the Derby and the FA Cup final onto his exclusive list.


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