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2012: The pace of change showed no signs of slowing in India: Peter Hutton FIC Sports SVP

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In sport, sometimes you just need to sit back and admire. The great moments do not need analysis, they deserve wonder. The best commentators earn their money by knowing when to say nothing. 

The year 2012 has been rich in such moments, from the remarkable individual stories of the Olympics to the shared joy in West Indian celebration at the ICC T20. It has seen Dravid, Laxman and Sourav move further into the wings, the remarkable supporting cast stepping aside for Sachin Tendulkar to take his final bow alone, the personification of 20 years of Indian economic transformation.

Sachin‘s career started in the days when the BCCI paid Doordarshan for the opportunity to show international games between news bulletins. It will end during the new Star TV agreement to pay around Rs 400 million a match for Indian cricket.

The pace of change shows no signs of slowing in India, where sports rights inflation is increasing for the premium properties. The recent agreement for Premier League rights in the sub-continent dwarves any previous price for non-cricket sports content. The Diwali night gamble on the next three seasons of the Premier League means the major European football rights are now signed up for the next few years (the Premier League and the FA Cup, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A all with ESPN/Star, the Champions League and English Championship with Ten, the Bundesliga with Neo). The next football battle ground for the Indian broadcasters will be for FIFA 2014, the world cup in Brazil still looking for an Indian home.

In cricket, the major rights have also been locked away with the established broadcasters, though four of the full member cricket boards will come into play in 2013. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and New Zealand will all look for new worldwide deals in the next 12 months in the hope of sizable increases from the Indian market. The trend is for long term deals these days, Ten’s 8-year renewal with the West Indies board having followed on from similar long term renewals by ESPN/Star with England and Australia, and Ten with South Africa and Zimbabwe. With content largely secured for India’s sports broadcasters, now the attention will turn to how to maximise the return on such long term investments and how best to operate in the new Indian digital legislative framework.

One development of note has been the investment in the new Star Sports website, with its ability to appreciate the days cricket video in multiple forms and encourage viewership “on the move”. This sort of initiative is changing the way that sport is being seen around the world and it is fascinating to see so many people in my new home in Singapore watching streams of sports content on tablets and mobiles as they travel to work. The numbers of illegal streams now available is a long term threat to the traditional broadcaster/rights holder model that funds sport everywhere. For broadcasters to support an official version is a wise investment in personal choice.

London 2012 was a great experience for all involved, a showcase for Britain but also for some of India’s unsung sporting talent. The history making deal signed by Manu Sawhney at ESPN/Star that allowed multiple channel coverage of the Games for the first time in Asia was a huge step forward for the coverage of multi-sport events in the sub-continent. The lesson of the Games was that even three channels of coverage in India wasn’t enough and left viewers complaining that they were missing live events. Hopefully by 2016 we’ll reach the sort of 10 channel coverage available elsewhere in Asia. (In the UK the BBC had over 20 channels just on the Olympics !)

At the end of the year, the return of India-Pakistan cricket deserves praise for all concerned with the delicate negotiations at the boards and the respective Governments. The intensity of the occasions, well scheduled over the holiday period, have been a perfectly timed reminder of all that’s good about cricket, with new stars emerging and plenty to enjoy.

2012 was also the year of some sad departures. The Bangalore footballer Venkatesh, who died on the pitch in India shortly after the Premier League’s Fabrice Muamba was saved in England thanks to excellent medical support. It also saw the passing of two of cricket’s most familiar voices in Tony Grieg and Christopher Martin Jenkins. The voices couldn’t have been more different, but they provided the sound track to some of cricket’s greatest moments. “CMJ” provided me with generous encouragement as a young writer, “Griegy” never failed to entertain and provided hours of stories, particularly on World Series Cricket where his pride on having shaken up the cricket establishment always shone through. Neither needs a long tribute, the memories of them will live on.

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