Thawani says telecast partner to be announced 22 February

MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: Now that telecast rights to India cricket for the next four years have been sealed and delivered (though the signing on the 21st remains) to television production company Nimbus Communications, the focus of attention now shifts to its chairman Harish Thawani. Who will be his telecast partner is the big question.

Thawani is not saying much, except that an announcement will be made on 22 February, after the deal has been ratified by the full working committee of the BCCI. What Thawani has said is that Nimbus might seek tie-ups with other networks, and that might also involve a joint venture.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) awarded Nimbus global media rights for all international and domestic cricket owned or controlled by the BCCI, to be played in India. The announcement was made at a press conference held in the city today, preceded by the tallying of the bids in the presence of the BCCI marketing committee and the bidders. Nimbus bid the highest amount ($612.18 million) to acquire the media rights for a period of four years from 1 March, 2006 to 31 March, 2010. Coverage under the new agreement starts with England's Test and one-day series, beginning on 1 March.

Says Thawani, "We could be close to buying a network, we could do multiple networks or partner one, but we want to stop this thing about exclusivity." What the Nimbus chief makes clear is that national broadcaster Doordashan would not get "any stress" from his end, which is a stand he has been consistent about even in the past.

To quote him from an earlier conversation with "(Complaints against) Mandatory content sharing I think is much ado about nothing. In reality the major events have always been on DD. For the last ten years DD has shown BCCI cricket at home. Even in the era when ESPN had the rights they shared the ODI rights with DD. Nimbus has been marketing ICC cricket for the last five years. We will continue to do for the next seven years. We share the World Cup and the Champions Trophy with them. So I do not see what the big hue and cry is about."

Asked as to how Nimbus getting the rights would impact his network, Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma said, "We'll wait and watch the next move of Nimbus. Especially what they do with the terrestrial rights --- whether its given to some marketing firm or a broadcaster. We'll act accordingly.

"However, we expect that any rights holder would do well to remember government guidelines (that make it mandatory for a rights holder to share cricket with Prasar Bharati on commercial terms).

"Moreover, we have an understanding with Global Cricket Corporation and a division of Nimbus for ICC Trophy and the cricket World Cup in the West Indies. We hope to strike similar agreements for Indian cricket also."

Does he feel Nimbus' quote is on the higher side? "Going by its past track record, I am sure Nimbus and its chairman Harish Thawani have done their calculations as Nimbus is reputed to be thorough with business-related figures."

Zee Sports EVP Himanshu Mody however, thinks differently. "We think it's way too high," Mody says.

Asked pointedly whether Zee would negotiate with Nimbus to get Indian cricket, Mody says, "Let's see how things pan out over the next two to three days and what exactly they (Nimbus) think of doing. But we'll try to get some (Indian) cricket on Zee Sports."

Zee Telefilms vice-president Ashish Kaul said, "It would be up to Nimbus to decide whom it would like to enter an agreement with as it does not have a telecast platform. We would be very happy if they would like to partner with Zee."

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