Zee tipped to be Nimbus' telecast partner; uncertainty in the UK

MUMBAI: A day after Nimbus Communications clinched a $612.18 million (Rs 27.24 billion) global media rights deal for cricket to be played in India for the next four years, all speculation revolved around the telecast partner Harish Thawani's production company would announce on 22 February.

Nimbus begins its term as global media rights owner for all international and domestic BCCI-organised cricket with England's tour of India that kicks off with the first Test in Nagpur from 1 March. England is scheduled to play three Tests and seven ODIs in the country over the next one and a half months.

All bets currently are on Zee Telefilms being the broadcaster that will be the telecast partner for this series (and for the rest of the four years that the deal runs uptil 31 March, 2010). Media rumblings around this have already begun. A report in Kolkata's The Telegraph newspaper quotes some of Zee's rivals as expressing "suspicion that Nimbus will resell the rights to Zee." The paper cites unconfirmed reports that ESPN-Star Sports and some other bidders were huddled in strategy meetings over the matter.

And further afield, in the UK, both television and radio coverage remains in limbo as Nimbus has reportedly hiked its asking price.

First there is News Corp-controlled British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), which incidentally had bid for the UK territory but was disqualified because it included caveats in its bids. BCCI vice-president and marketing panel chairman Lalit Modi had clearly specified at the time of submission of tenders that any conditions or caveats introduced as adjuncts to any bid would mean automatic disqualification.

In the past, BSkyB has secured rights for matches involving India and England for well short of £1million. This time round though, reports coming in the British press quoting industry insiders say Nimbus has hiked its asking price to over £5 million. BSkyB has had a virtual monopoly on England's overseas Tests for over 10 years.

Even on the radio front, there is uncertainty with a BBC radio spokeswoman being quoted as saying, "We're still in negotiations with Nimbus."

As regards the TV rights, BSkyB could also face competition from Asian-run TV channels in the UK, such as Zee, Sony and Pakistan's ARY Digital. All three broadcasters target the strong South Asian population in the UK and having this series to showcase would get in huge subscription revenues.

Whether any of these three have the financial muscle to fork out over £5 million for telecast rights remains the moot though.

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