Sony withdraws from ICC rights bid process

MUMBAI: Sony Entertainment Television India, the "incumbent" holder of telecast rights for ICC cricket in the subcontinent, has withdrawn from the bidding process for the next round of bids, for which the deadline for bids submission is 10 November.

Up for grabs are the audio-visual rights for 18 ICC tournaments starting from the second half of 2007 till the World Cup in 2015. The last agreement began in 2000 and ends with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 in the West Indies next March.

The Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) board was unwilling to bankroll the bid, which was seen as being too fraught with financial risk.

Confirming the developments to, Set India CEO Kunal Dasgupta had this to say: "We believe that the terms (of the tender) are quite onerous. We do not want to put our company at risk so we are constrained to hold back our bid. But that does not take away our right to enter into post-bid arrangements with the winning bidders."

Dasgupta made it clear that Sony did not want to get sucked into a bidding frenzy similar to what was witnessed in February when Harish Thawani's Nimbus Communications walked away with the telecast rights to India cricket after putting in a bank-breaking $612.18 million composite bid. Nimbus' bid was nearly $ 200 million higher than the base price of $425 million that had been set by the Indian cricket board.

A point also worth noting is that Sony's composite bid for the BCCI rights, made through Set Satellite Singapore Pte, was $478 million for the global rights and $397 million for the India territory.

With Sony out of the reckoning, it could well be the same two who finally face off for the current block of cricket property, with Subhash Chandra squaring off against one time ally and now bitter foe Rupert Murdoch. It was Murdoch who won that particular skirmish so there will be some interesting history at play when the bids are opened at the ICC's headquarters in Dubai tomorrow.

To rewind to 1999, the News Corp controlled Global Cricket Corporation (GCC) had paid out $550 million to secure the rights after a fierce bidding war with Chandra's Zee Telefilms. At the time of bidding, the GCC was a 50:50 JV between News Corp and World Sport Nimbus (itself a 50:50 JV between Nimbus and the UK-headquartered World Sport Group). News Corp subsequently bought out WSN's stake in the JV.

The GCC had sold the satellite rights for the Indian subcontinent territory to Sony Entertainment Television India for $ 208 million.

One player that will definitely not be in this particular game is Nimbus. It has been taken out of the equation by the News Corp distribution deal. And neither, for that matter, will News Corp be bidding as a separate entity from ESPN Star Sports.

Market speculation on how high the bidding will go this time round ranges from at least a billion dollars to even crossing $ 1.7 billion.

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