Television

'We’ve introduced more content around our major live sports – but we are aware of the dangers of overkill' : Peter Hutton - Taj Television V-P programming

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The sports broadcasting genre is heading towards a period of expansion and change. With one new entrant ready to make its presence in the next month or so (Zee Sports) and some noises being made about another (BCCI cricket channel), the challenge looks to be for players to monetise their properties by looking beyond just cricket.

The Dubai-based Ten Sports has been doing just that. Earlier this year it announced that it had renewed its deal with the WWE. More recently it signed on with FIH (International Hockey Federation) for exclusive broadcast rights to key international hockey events. On the distribution front, it joined the One Alliance and is putting in place an internal team.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with Taj Television vice-president programming Peter Hutton to get an update on all the happenings at Ten Sports.

Let’s start with what has been a red hot issue for a while now - India cricket. The result of the rights fiasco has left the BCCI to ponder launching its own channel. If that gets off the ground then the other players would be in serious trouble as that would limit the number of cricket properties available. And ad revenue would get splintered further. How well is Ten prepared for such a situation



The BCCI has not formally decided to launch the channel yet. It has been suggested by Mr (IS) Bindra and the committee is yet to take a decision.

As far as Ten Sports is concerned, we have been showing Indian home cricket in the Middle East and other Asian territories, and this should not be a problem even if the BCCI launches its own channel. Our key rights, whether they be cricket, wrestling, tennis or hockey, are all signed up for the long term, so we wouldn’t be concerned.

Could you briefly dwell on the manner in which Ten Sports' programming strategy evolved in 2004?



2004 was a vital year with us. A number of key rights were up for renewal. Not only did we succeed in holding off the competition on rights such as WWE, Sri Lankan cricket, the FIH hockey and the Ryder Cup golf, we also went on to secure new and important deals such as the US Open tennis and Italian football.

The key has been buying live, relevant sport that can be seen in prime time in India.

To what extent has the programming budget gone up?



Competition on rights has noticeably increased and the cost of rights are escalating in the key driver product. Among our latest acquisitions are the US Open tennis and World Cup hockey for both men and women.

We have recently renewed a huge amount of product including cricket, football and golf rights for the rest of the decade.

"We now produce and provide facilities for a range of channels in the Middle East, including Citruss TV, Al Waha, Arabian Travel, and Prime Sports"

What are the factors that are pushing up the costs of sport production?



I don’t think they are increasing – if anything, the production costs are reducing as hardware becomes more readily available.

Ten Sports will now manage the production of the upcoming Prime Sports channel. With your growing portfolio of production and facilities, what key additions have you made to the production team?



We now produce and provide facilities for a range of channels in the Middle East, including Citruss TV, Al Waha, Arabian Travel, and Prime Sports as well as our production work for international distribution.

We are consistently upgrading our facilities and developing this area of our business, using our skills and rights to create a varied revenue stream. In fact, our main Dubai studio is completely booked out and we are in the process of opening more studio facilities.

For live events whether it is in cricket or soccer or hockey, are you looking to improve upon your pre and post match coverage through specials?



We’ve introduced more and more content around our major live sports – but we are very aware of the dangers of overkill. We have consciously restricted the duration of our pre- and post-match shows. Sports viewers prefer action to talk.

While on the subject of specials, Max was able to hook in the housewife in a big way by getting Mandira Bedi and later on Rakshandha Khan on board. This gave the telecast a glamour feel. Why isn't Ten looking at doing something along these lines?



Frankly, we believe in putting cricket first, and have been much appreciated for doing that.

Cricket telecasts have featured innovations like Hawkeye. What innovations are coming up in sports like football, tennis to get viewers more closely involved with the action?



The technology of sport is consistently updating. One particular development in sport is the ultra slow motion. This takes what is now “super slo-mo” being made even clearer. Meanwhile huge development work is going on in Europe on interactivity for the sports viewing experience.

"Our key production developments are from our facilities in Dubai – it’s been good fun doing the work to help out the BCCI, and we will continue to do so if needed."

In terms of doing production for another party, what key deals is Taj Television looking at? I would imagine that you would pitch for the BCCI in a big way.



Our key production developments are from our facilities in Dubai – it’s been good fun doing the work to help out the BCCI, and we will continue to do so if needed.

But as a business the potential to do production work for other clients is more in other territories.

You co-organise 20/20 cricket in Sri Lanka. What response did that get and are there any plans to get involved with the domestic Indian cricket scene?



Clearly we are interested in all cricket properties and whenever the BCCI are able to discuss ongoing events, we will certainly be part of the conversations. The response in Sri Lanka was good and we are now in the process of doing a similar thing in Pakistan.

Industry sources indicate that once a cricket match is over, it loses its USP as the result is known. Even repeats of the 2003 world cup did not generate much heat. In this context what value do properties like Cricket Classics have?



The viewership for Cricket Classics still outrate the Premier League and Formula 1 on a regular basis.

Last year you had mentioned that global football events struggle to get sponsorship in India. Football is a niche property with the lone exception being the football World Cup. In this context how difficult is it for you to push properties like German Bundesliga to the media planning community?



It’s a good cost effective buy for us, and for the advertisers.

In terms of the ad sales strategy when India goes to Pakistan and the West Indies to what extent will you sell non cricket properties as add ons?



We’ve got so much live cricket in the coming year with three India tours in the next 15 months, there’s no need.

In tennis, you have two Grand Slam events at a time when Sania Mirza's rise has strengthened interest in the sport. What gain in viewership do you expect as a result?



Clearly there is an increase in awareness of tennis because of Sania. But the French Open and US Open are always big events for India, and though it generates more publicity to have Sania there, it would be wrong to link the fortunes of such events with just one person.

Another non-cricket Indian sportsperson making headlines is Kartikeyan who just entered the F1 world. There is the chance for sports broadcasters to create innovative packages not just around F1 but also around motorsports to cash in on the general interest in the genre. What plans does Ten Sports have in this regard?



We have always worked very close with Narain and his sponsors, and continue to show a variety of motorsport events with the support of JK Tyres and Tata in particular. It’s encouraging to see them getting involved at all levels of the sport.

"The viewership for Cricket Classics still outrate the Premier League and Formula 1 on a regular basis"

What changes do you see happening in the sports marketing world in India as a result of Mirza and Kartikeyan?



I think that there is a general trend where Indian sports stars will achieve more on the world stage, increasing the audience and the value for properties other than cricket. But this clearly has a long, long way to go.

Are you looking at co-organising sports events in India which tweak the existing format like what ESS is doing with PHL?



Not at the moment.

Media planners I have spoken to have indicated that the WWE is hurting kids channels more than the other sports channels. What does research show?



It is pretty simple to look at the demographics for WWE and see that it’s not just a kids’ product. It is the most watched content on sports channels every day for audiences of all ages, only beaten by Indian cricket.

Are there any plans to add chat shows to your repertoire?



Not at the moment but we are always revamping our schedule.

What about drama shows like what ESPN Star Sports did with 'Dream Team' a couple of years ago?



I think that the fate of Dream Team shows you why the answer is no.

Over the years Ten Sports' has followed a policy of being low key on the marketing front. Will there be any changes to this strategy?



We have a lot of new plans to market our events. You will definitely see a bigger marketing push from us in the future. The benefits of being part of the One Alliance bouquet will also help us on this.

"It is pretty simple to look at the demographics for WWE and see that it’s not just a kids’ product"

There is lots of talk going on about new delivery systems like broadband coming in. Your take.



Yes, we’re very interested in the developments in this area and believe that we can do more with international rights by using the potential of broadband in India.

What impact will Zee Sports coming in have on the sports scenario?



I think that prices for content will be driven up. This is one of the reasons that we’ve secured our key rights in some cases up till 2010.

Will Zee Sports and BCCI's proposed channel eat into the share of the existing players or do you expect sports viewership in India to go up in the next couple of years?



Sports viewership as an overall share continues to grow and the lessons from other markets are that there is still considerable room for growth in India.

Are you open to joining a DTH platform like Dish TV?



If the distribution of a DTH platform is tightly controlled to the Indian territory, then it’s worth considering. However, we wouldn’t want to jeopardise our strong distribution income and relationships in other markets.

Finally last year there were reports that Taj Television was looking at a partner to pick up an equity stake. Have any further developments taken place in this regard?



We have recently secured our main income stream thanks to our new deal with The One Alliance.

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