Zee Sports adds special features to enhance cricket viewing experience

MUMBAI: After quite a wait Zee Sports has finally got some serious cricket. It is currently telecasting the Abu Dhabi series between India and Pakistan. The channel is pulling out all the stops to make sure that the viewer experience is complete.

Speaking on this, Zee Sports marketing VP Gaurav Seth says, "TWI is doing the production for us. Our aim is to ensure that the viewer gets a complete experience. There have been reports about how too many ads on other channels (read Sahara) are spoiling the cricket experience. We wanted to avoid that at all costs. Therefore, our senior management got together to work out a way by which the breaks were sequenced so that not a single moment on the field is missed.

"One new technical feature we introduced was the ball meter. This graphic on the top right hand corner of the screen tracks the movement and pace of the ball from the time it leaves the bowlers hand. So, you will see it slowing down and then picking up pace again."

Zee Sports also has the usual Hawkeye and other features. As Seth says, "We wanted to put our best foot forward. One way to do this is putting together an expert panel of commentators on our pre and post special Cricket Cafe. We have among others Navjot Siddhu, Ajay Jadeja, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan."

The channel is using Kapil Dev in an innovative way through the segment Kapil's Corner. Here, the former Indian captain who helped India win the World Cup in 1983, talks from different venues like a golf course, swimming pool on how the game has changed over the years and how he views it today.

The channel has also roped in Bollywood actress Tara Sharma who sends postcards. She visits different parts of the city to give the viewer at home a flavour of what it offers. Face Off is an irreverent, funny section featuring former cricketers Arun Lal and Rameez Raja. While Lal talks about why he thinks Pakistan will win, Raja talks about India's chances.

Another segment in the first match saw Band Of Boys singer Verghese who is a VJ for the broadcaster talking to television stars, film actors about how cricket compares to Bollywood and to television serials. The question was whether an India-Pakistan match is bigger than a Saas-bahu serial and a major blockbuster featuring the likes of Amitabh Bachchan. The consensus was that India-Pakistan was bigger.

The question remains as to whether fatigue will happen since India and Pakistan are playing each other with greater frequency. To this, Seth points out that a fan is always a fan. While there might be some fatigue, an India-Pakistan match will always have good viewership as it generates passion. "The attitude is that it is more painful for India to lose to Pakistan than it is to lose the World Cup final. So you can imagine the level of interest when these two teams meet."

In terms of advertising, Seth says that both Pepsi and Coke are on board. "We also roped in Motorola, BSNL, DLF among others. We were initially apprehensive about co-marketing the event with DD. But, the result has been very good and DD brought its experience of marketing cricket for the past several years to the table.

"In addition to being careful about the number of spots aired we also made sure that our pop ups were non intrusive. Often on other channels ads pop up in such a way that it blocks the view and thus compromise the experience. We had pop ups that came and disappeared quickly. They were also relatively smaller compared to what one can see elsewhere."

On the distribution front, Seth concedes that carriage fees have been paid to some operators. "However one objective of cricket is to show the cable fraternity that we are in the game for the long term. We are not just looking to make a quick buck. Our aim is to reach 60 to 70 per cent of cable & satellite homes by the end of the month.

"We are aware that it is difficult for a sports channel to be present if there is no cricket on account of bandwith shortage. However, our aim for the next 12 months is to achieve a 60 to 70 per cent penetration level, regardless of whether we have cricket or not. I would say that we have already achieved that level of penetration. in the East and North where football is followed.

"Also, it will not take more than two to three years for tennis and football to act as some sort of a driver for sports channels. I do not think that hockey can be a driver. If you go to any school you will see kids playing football in addition to cricket.

"The elite play tennis. Indians, I think, have some degree of difficulty relating to hockey. Football, of course, is the most global sport played by 182 countries compared to cricket where only 10 countries participate and hockey which has around 10 participating countries. If the Indian national football team can improve its performance, the sport will go places," says Seth.

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