Television

Ten Sports to play it 'Straight' during Ind-Pak series

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MUMBAI: With India's hotly anticipated tour of their arch rivals Pakistan a mere ten days away Ten Sports has firmed up its coverage plans.

There is the live cricket of course but the extra toppings as it were will not be having any "babe quotient". Playing it straight is Ten Sports with a no-frills preview/ half time/ post match show titled Straight Drive.

Not for Ten pleasant attractions (unnecessary distractions the "purist" sort would say) like MAX with Mandira Bedi of the noodle straps fame or ESPN Star Sports' Shaz and Waz Show.

Speaking to Indiantelevision.com Ten Sports India MD Sharmishta Rizhwani said, "As part of our on air coverage during the series, Ten Sports will have a special preview/ half time/ post match show titled Straight Drive. It will be hosted by former cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar who has been the face of the channel for the last two years.

Straight Drive will have on its discussion panel weird one-liner king Navjot Singh Sidhu and Pakistani cricket icon Imran Khan. Prominent ex-cricketers like Dean Jones, Ian Chappel, and Waqar Younis will join them from time to time. The commentary team includes Ian Chappel, Robin Jackman, Ian Healy, Dean Jones.

Rizhwani added that to build up excitement the first step was a series of the greatest India Pakistan matches titled India-Pak Unforgettables. These have been airing over the past few months. "Another route was to showcase the legendary players from India & Pakistan under the title Legends India & Pak great performers. January was dedicated to showcase all the legendary Pakistani performers and February was dedicated to India," said Rizhwani.

Strategic partnerships with news channels Rizhwani added that the broadcaster was in the process of firming up strategic partnerships with various news channels. This will enable them to use limited footage of the matches for their respective news capsules.

The broadcaster has also claimed that it will reach all the 45 million cable homes in the country during this series, with many more seeing the matches through community viewing. The big question though relates to the declared subscriber base. Since Trai has frozen the rates for pay channels as of 26 December 2003 but allowed for "legitimate increases in declared subscriber base", the Bukhatir broadcaster will no doubt be looking to put the squeeze on cable operators by arguing that the price of Rs 14 is reasonable considering the channel's content.

Says Rizhwani, "The price has remained unchanged since our launch in 2002. In the last two years, while the subscription rate has remained unchanged, the cricket action offered on the channel has tripled."

Queried as to whether the fact that Ten was on a virtually one-channel distribution platform (Modi Entertainment Network) was a disadvantage in ramping up numbers Rizhwani replied: "We have always been confident of being a one channel distribution network based on our ability to garner significant amounts of daily viewing comparable to most mass entertainment channels. This is a relatively new phenomenon in sports viewership, which has traditionally been event led in nature. This coupled with our strong line up of live action has resulted in great successes for us on the distribution front."

Of course for this to happen viewers and cable ops will have to be convinced that there is high quality sport on the channel beyond just this once in lifetime (in terms of excitement generated) series. For this purpose Ten has cut a special promo highlighting the quality action in store for the viewer in the year. These include Australias on going and South Africas upcoming tour of Sri Lanka, England and Bangladeshs tour of West Indies and later in the year Zimbabwes tour of Pakistan.

Hockey continues on the channel in March with the Olympic Qualifiers where India competes with the best in the world to qualify for an elusive Olympic spot. Another event that should bring in the ratings is World Wrestling Entertainment's Wrestlemania XX. This will air some time in April.

Still, all this is but distractions from the main course, which is the first tour of Pakistan by an Indian team in almost 15 years. As Rizhwani pointed out, the series "really doesn't need much promotional work." Granted, but will the distribution ramp ups really be able to match up with the successes on the ad sales front? Team Ten certainly seems to think so.

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