|Interview with Taj TV CEO Chris
the telecast of India cricket (live) on any other channel
has ever been able to displace us from our number one position"
on 17 November 2003
Ten Sports from Abdul Rehman Bukhatir's Taj Television stable launched
last year it was greeted with a fair share of skepticism. After
all ESPN Star Sports (ESS) had a firm grip over the sports broadcasting
sphere and with Max stepping up cricket coverage there were doubts
as to whether India really needed another sports channel.
the channel has certainly enlivened the scene. Its first major event
which was the coverage of last year's football World Cup, gave it
visibility throughout the country for relatively less investment.
Once the event was over, it was able to keep itself in the mind
of the viewer primarily through World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
content. This has helped it compete favourably with ESS. It also
tried to do more than just showcase cricket by serving up diverse
content such as Gamer TV and Robot Wars.
this is not to say that it has been tardy when it comes to the bat
and ball game. It recently acquired the rights for West Indies cricket.
Should India go through with their tour of Pakistan next year, Ten
would be looking at a major windfall. Indiantelevision.com's
caught up with Taj Television's CEO Chris McDonald via email and
got him to dwell on the channel's progress, how the presentation
of its content is different from what ESS and Max do, the major
changes that have been taking place in the sports broadcasting sphere
as well as why it chose not to employ a brand ambassador, and more.
has been over a year since Ten Sports launched in India. What are
the major lessons that have been learnt?
It was our belief, prior to launch, that in order to create a viable
24 hour sports channel, we could not rely solely on Indian cricket.
We knew alternative sports had to be developed. The reinforcement
of this belief over the last one year can be termed as our biggest
have succeeded in changing the rules of the sports television business
with our "Sports Entertainment" programming philosophy and programmes
like WWE, Legends, Cricket Classics, Sharjah Gold, Robot Wars,
Gamer TV and Weird World of Sports. To all this, we added
sports with solid and growing popularity in India, such as hockey
(Champions Trophy) and motor racing. This came in the form of Narain
Karthikeyan at the Nissan World series, and The World Rally Championship
(WRC). Both of them consistently outperform Formula 1 on our competitors.
For instance, if you look at TAM figures for January -October 2003
(six Metros, c&s 4+) our coverage of WRC had a peak TVR of 0.5.
ESPN's coverage of Formula 1 had a figure of 0.2. DD Sports' Racing
World also notched a peak TVR of 0.2.
also showcase horse racing, and cricket at India relevant timings
from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Sharjah and Morocco. In summary, this
programming mix has catapulted Ten Sports into the leadership position
by a distance. As a matter of fact, only the telecast of India cricket
(live) on any other channel has ever been able to displace us from
our number one position.
what extent have the distribution hassles that you experienced last
year during the Football World Cup been ironed out?
The 2002 FIFA World Cup coincided with the launch of the channel
and hence was an establishment phase for Ten Sports. We were pay
from day one. Over the last one year, we have established ourselves
as a channel relevant to the consumer every day of the year and
not just dependent on one off, India cricketing events.
has resulted in Ten Sports being present across a majority of cable
and satellite homes across the country. A quick glance at our strong
reach and rating figures confirms just that. For instance, if you
look at the figures for January -October 2003 (six Metros 4+) our
coverage of the French Open Tennis championship in May had a peak
TVR of 0.6. Star Sports' coverage of the US Open in August- September
had a peak of 0.1. DD Sports' airing of the ITF Mens tennis circuit
peaked at 0.2.
what way has the definition of being a sports broadcaster expanded
and changed since your stint with ESS?
When ESPN and Star Sports joined hands in 1996, they enjoyed
a virtual monopoly and concentrated on how to generate maximum revenues.
The customisation of their channels, beyond cricket, did not happen.
started to change in 2000 with Doordarshan acquiring the rights
for cricket played in India. In 2002, sports television came of
age with the launch of Ten Sports and Sony acquiring the rights
for the ICC World Cups. The need of the day was to develop other
sports beyond cricket given the high price of cricket rights. That
was the tough part and is an area we at Ten Sports are very proud
to have succeeded in.
broken new ground in India with live coverage of horse racing
from India, Dubai and the UK as well as the first ever live
telecast in India of the Tour de France cycling"
antics on WWE Raw keep viewers hooked
wrestling content, what are the other properties you'll are looking
at to bring in the ratings?
We are fortunate that, because our parent company organises the
Sharjah and Morocco cricket events, we have a firm base of guaranteed
live cricket, in addition to all international cricket played in
Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
endeavour is to also develop other sports properties, notably hockey,
to become part of an established sporting calendar. Our next initiative
in this regard is to show hockey's Olympic qualifiers from Spain
in February which features India, Pakistan, Netherlands, Spain and
Great Britain, followed by the Champions Trophy hockey in November.
have made a major committment to motorsport through the world rally
championships, where we have enjoyed ratings in excess of those
of Formula 1, and we will extend this coverage in the coming year
to live Sunday rallying. Our live coverage of Narain Karthikeyan
in the Nissan World Series also continues. We've broken new ground
in India with live coverage of horse racing from India, Dubai and
the UK as well as the first ever live telecast in India of the Tour
de France cycling, which had a great response. We will be extending
this in the months ahead as well.
is not just about live sport though. Documentary series such as
the award winning History of Football help to inform and
educate viewers about international sport. The idea is to create
awareness of sports stars from different areas, both in India and
in the rest of the world. If we successfully do that then we can
help popularise other sports.
what way is the manner in which Ten Sports presents content like
a cricket match different from ESS and Max? Are there any value
adds for the viewer?
Cricket is a religion in India and the biggest value add for
any viewer is top of the line coverage of the sport. This is what
we bring to the table at Ten Sports - top quality pictures and excellent.
also believe in having fun with cricket when the occasion is light,
as was the case during a recent exhibition match between Pakistan
and the rest of the world. During this match we had Dean Jones,
who was also a commentator with us, wired up and interviewing the
batsmen, umpires and fellow fielders while on the field and also
while he was batting.
are the major changes happening in the broadcast rights market?
Have acquisition costs gone up or down this past year?
The rights costs for popular sports like cricket may well rise
given the popularity of the game. However there are many other factors
which could help or hinder that increase. The key in acquisitions
is the vision to identify potentially popular sports and invest
behind the same for a substantially long period of time.
in point is hockey. Ten Sports had telecast the 2002 Champions Trophy
because we believed it could develop into a high profile sport like
cricket and soccer. Our belief has turned into reality with the
strong performance of the 2003 Champions trophy. The coverage of
quality hockey will continue with the live telecast of the critical
Olympic Qualifiers in March 2004, followed by The Champion's Trophy
in December 2004. This strategy of acquisitions remains the same
for other sports like horse racing and motor sports.
key in acquisitions is the vision to identify potentially
popular sports and invest behind the same for a substantially
long period of time"
role will new delivery mediums like broadband downloads play in your
Broadband is an alternative form of distribution to cable and
DTH. So we welcome the opportunity to expand the viewing base of Ten
Sports throughout the country. We will obviously look to create more
interactive elements for this medium.
there be greater experimentation in the content format of sports
channels? For instance, Star Sports airs the soap Dream Team.
experimentation in content for sports channels is here to stay.
The idea is to broad base sports and the same is in sync with our
programming philosophy of "Sports Entertainment."
like Gamer TV, Robot Wars, and Techno Games
have been an essential part of this philosophy right from the launch
of the channel. Focus studies done on the core target group for
sports television, Males 15+, reveal that this programming has resulted
in the channel being perceived as a "cutting edge", "youthful" and
vibrant. In fact, as a result of the programme Robot Wars
on Ten Sports, over 200 robots were created in India by budding
Techno Whiz kids and were sent to London as entries for the show.
the US, ESPN has a High Definition channel. Do you foresee this technology
coming to India within a couple of years?
Yes, viewers certainly would enjoy the high resolution pictures
and crystal clear audio which is the hallmark of HDTV. The broadcasters
have to, in turn, provide HD signals. So it may take some time, but
it will come.
Ten Sports looking at co-organizing sport events in India?
We are open to organising sports events and will take it up if
we arrive at the right project.
at Ten Sports believe in looking out for media options and
committing to marketing spends only if the same cannot be
achieved using our own channel"
it is still early days are you planning to get involved with next
year's Olympic coverage in any manner?
We are evaluating this opportunity.
CAS does happen, does research you have conducted indicate that
enough people are willing to pay for Ten Sports?
Ten Sports, with its programming strategy, has rewritten the
rules by consistently out performing all the news channels and English
entertainment/movie channels, week on week. We have been able to
move into the same league as mass entertainment channels like Zee
TV and Sahara TV, which was traditionally possible only with live
Also, Ten Sports has proved to be the most favoured vehicle
for sports viewership with similar sports getting higher ratings
on our channel. This performance demonstrates the fact that Ten
Sports will be the first choice sports channel in the CAS scenario.
are the main value additions that you'll look at offering viewers
in a CAS environment?
The biggest value addition we will be offering the consumer
is the number one sports channel in the country at a much lower
price in comparison to the competition.
Sports has been rather quiet on the marketing front compared to
ESS and Max. Is this a deliberate strategy?
We at Ten Sports believe in looking out for media options and
committing to marketing spends only if the same cannot be achieved
using our own channel.
is not to say we don't invest behind marketing. When we do so, we
exploit the strength of the channel and the property we are promoting
so as to accentuate marketing spends.
case in point is the 2002 FIFA World Cup where we leveraged the
strength of the property and tied up with outlets across the country
for screenings in return for committed advertising spends by the
outlets. Another example of the same was for Champions Trophy hockey.
The success of Champions Trophy was in part the result of a clearly
planned marketing and programming effort by the channel. Knowing
very well that people react to/support characters and stars, Ten
Sports built up the hockey players as characters by using some facet
of their playing skill.
channel produced 20-30 second interstitials around this theme for
each player and ran them on the channel much before the tournament
actually began. Some of the examples are - Dhanraj - The Wizard
and Jugraj - The Dragon. Additionally, we ran a campaign called
"My heart beats for India" which had some of the most important
people in Indian hockey talking about their most memorable experiences
while representing the country. As with the FIFA World Cup, we also
tied-up with high traffic outlets in major cities across the country
where consumers could go and cheer for India while watching the
match on a big screen.
a brand ambassador be looked at?
A brand ambassador is usually signed on so as to satisfy an
existing "need gap" in the brand, by borrowing off the ambassador's
positive values. At this stage, Ten Sports has managed to maintain
its equity with the consumer without the help of an ambassador.
fact has repeatedly come to the fore from the various consumer research
we have conducted. This however, does not rule out the use of a
brand ambassador as and when we feel it is required.
do you expect a boost in revenue from advertising and subscription
in the near future?
We have a fantastic line up of sporting action ahead in addition
to all of our very successful the regular programming. Now, with the
India tour of Pakistan we are very optimistic about 2004.