Regulators

Zee rejects re-bid proposal; action moves to Bombay HC on Thursday

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MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: Acting on expected lines, Zee Telefilms Ltd this evening filed an affidavit with the Bombay High Court stating that it has rejected outright the "suggestion" made by the court last Thursday that it enter into a re-bid process for the telecast rights of international and domestic fixtures controlled by the Indian cricket board for the next four years.

The move by Subhash Chandra's company, which can legitimately lay claim to having won the rights fair and square over two rounds of what the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) supremo Jagmohan Dalmiya has turned from a tender process into an auction, confirms a report put out first by Indiantelevision.com on 11 September

 

In a related development, the Union sports ministry also filed an affidavit today to state its position vis-a-vis the ESS-Zee case as it had been made a party to the case by the peritioner.

The sports ministry has stated, according to officials, that BCCI is an autonomous body and reserves the right to conduct its own business the way it deems fit.

A statement issued by Zee after it filed its affidavit says: "Zee Telefilms Limited Board of Directors in their meeting on September 13, 2004 firmly decided against re-bidding. Accordingly we have served the copies of our affidavit on the parties to the writ petition no. 2462 of 2004, pending in front of the divisional bench in Hon'ble High Court of Mumbai. The matter will come up for direction at 11 am tomorrow and hearing will commence on Thursday morning," Copies of the affidavit have also been served on BCCI and ESPN-Star Sports. 

What this means is that the issue of Zee's eligibility to bid for India cricket rights, which was the argument around which ESPN Star Sports moved the courts in the first place, will be argued between the opposing counsels on Thursday. The case is being heard by a two-judge Bench of Chief Justice DS Bhandari and Justice DY Chandrachud.

It is pertinent to note that even in this case, it was the BCCI's counsel that threw in yet another googly when the hearings began last Thursday by suggesting a re-bid as a way out of the legal imbroglio. The argument put forth by the counsel of the Indian board was that in the light of the fact that the crucial Australia series was set to kick off early next month, some resolution was essential, and fast.

The BCCI counsel's proposal came even though it had announced on 5 September that Zee had won the rights after increasing its bid amount from the earlier $ 260 million to a humungous $ 308 million. Additionally, Zee on 7 September made an initial payment of $20 million, honouring one of the conditions set by the board when it awarded Zee the rights.

As already reported by Indiantelevision.com, Zee is not letting any "roadblocks", legal or otherwise, detract from its determination to have its channel begin beaming into Indian homes on its scheduled launch date of 2 October.

While the details of what exactly the company is doing in this regard remain sketchy at the moment, what can be confirmed is that that Subhash Chandra's media company is not about to enter into any equity collaboration a foreign partner outside of content agreements. This puts paid to any chance of the Zee Group and AOL Time Warner entering into a JV for the sports channel. What it also rules out is any JV deal with the Dubai-based sports broadcaster Ten Sports.

Speaking of content, the question that comes up is around the sort of programming that will go into channel when it launches. As per indications, for the first three months after launch, Zee Sports (as the channel has been christened) will be primarily cricket-led.

And what happens if the legal tussle is not resolved by the time the Australian team lands in India in the first week of October? The argument looks like being that it is for the Board for Control of Cricket in India to sort out.

Speaking to indiantelevision.com over phone yesterday, Dalmiya said, We have to think ahead to the Australians series and others too if the legal case does not get resolved, as much we would like it to get settled soon.Dalmiya further pointed out that if the cricket matches were not telecast, BCCI would also run into problems with the International Cricket Council.

Forget the money, we would lose face if the matches are not televised as we are obliged to provide replays, etc to the third umpire and ICC may even penalise us heavily, apart from the likelihood of the Australian cricket board demanding compensation,Dalmiya tried to explain.

And it is not just the Indian telecast that is at issue. The feed has to go Australia and other international territories as well. Highlighting the mess the BCCI has landed itself in, the Indian Express in a report filed today, has quoted a Sky Sports spokesperson as saying, The BCCI is yet to get back to us (on the telecast issue). We have been waiting to hear from them for months on end now. 

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