Television

Eurasia Cup telecast to be split between SaharaOne, Filmy

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MUMBAI: Looks like Sahara is not about to let go the foothold it has got into the India cricket telecast game. After having aired the recently concluded series between India and England, SaharaOne has now acquired the rights for the next five years to a new offshore cricket event --- the EurAsia Cricket series.

The first edition of the event will be held in the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi from 22 April to 5 May 2006 and is the result of an alliance between the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Trust and the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council.

SaharaOne CEO Shantonu Aditya says, "We are delighted to partner with Creative Eye (from whom Sahara got the rights) in promoting the EurAsia Cricket Series 2006." Creative Eye had earlier acquired the rights for this VK Sports Management Group.

BSNL is Sahara's title sponsor for the event which will feature the A teams of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Making up the numbers for this six-nation event are cricket "minnows" Holland, Ireland and UAE. The teams are divided into two groups. Sahara will simulcast the 14 day-night ODIs on SaharaOne and and recently launched movie channel Filmy. SaharaOne though will take a break between 8:30-10:30 pm to protect its prime time shows while Filmy will air the matches uninterrupted.

The big question of course is what benefits Sahara expects to get out of a series at a time of serious cricket overload what with the national team literally ending one series and getting into another with barely a break in between. More so since Aditya confirmed that Sahara had no plans to launch a sports channel in the near future.

According to Sahara One Television COO Purnendu Bose, the Subrato Roy-promoted network sees three clear opportunities that it would be exploiting from this property, for which it holds the global satellite rights as well as in stadia rights.

First of course is the composition of the Indian team, captained by Venugopala Rao, which includes the latest star in the making and opener Robin Uthappa, pacemen RP Singh and VRV Singh, leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, all-rounder Reetinder Singh Sodhi, and wicketkeeper batsman Dinesh Kaarthick, all of whom have played for India. Opener Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan and middle-order batsman S. Badrinath also find a place.

The team composition allows for Sahara's marketing pitch for this series, which is that the network will be showcasing "today's heroes" or the "Young Tigers" who will have a significant role to play in the Indian cricket scheme of things with the mantra being so much on youth. According to Bose, this event going forward had the potential to become a major property in itself.

Explaining the programming strategy, Bose states that the event will "get me additional ratings during my graveyard shift (2:30 pm to 7:30 pm)". The telecast on SaharaOne, in much the same way as national broadcaster Doordarshan does with its main channel DD1 when it telecasts India cricket, will pull away from cricket at 7:30 pm and hook back in at 10:30 pm to get in the "final hour of action".

Thirdly, says Bose, "whatever additional sampling that happens because of the cricket is good for the channel."

One wonders though that with the Rahul Dravid and the gang playing so much cricket whether there will be any interest left in watching an India A team. No matter how good India A is, the coverage devoted to it in the press indicates that there is a huge question mark over just how much interest the average cricket watcher will have in it.

Having said that, cricket that does not feature the main eleven has generally been given step motherly treatment in this country. So it is encouraging to see SaharaOne at least try and push the cause of the sport beyond just the main eleven.

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