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"The investment required in a sports channel can be huge, but we've taken each step slowly and so far successfully"

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MUMBAI: It's certainly been quite a year. Twelve months ago, I was at IMG-TWI in Delhi, where I'd been for the past 8 years in a firm that had dominated the Indian sports business since the early 90s. Three months later and I'd dragged wife and dogs to Dubai for the launch of a new sports channel, which kicked off on 1 April 2002 and has been surprising people ever since.

It was great to see the survey that placed us above ESPN-Star for ratings in the March-November period (2002) despite two Indian tours being "on the opposition". Particularly amazing when you consider how few people were there for our launch in April, but we certainly caught the public's imagination quickly with three key products - WWE, which brought consistently excellent daily ratings both for its afternoon and evening slots, live cricket from Sharjah, Morocco and Sri Lanka and of course the soccer world cup.



    

"We're well aware that we'll be judged in the public perception primarily by the fortunes and content of Ten Sports"        

In many ways the soccer World Cup illustrated the best and worst of the industry in India - it was a huge success in terms of public and advertiser perception but we were permanantly attacking illegal world cup broadcasts from Indonesian, Chinese and other channels. India remains a country where a new channel can rise dramatically based on quality content, but where the lack of regulation in the market - particularly with regard to subscriber declarations - remains the major drawback. Hopefully CAS (conditional access system) will be the solution that everyone needs.

Now we look ahead to 2003 with a fair amount of confidence. A quality cricket line-up with live events throughout the year from Sharjah, Sri Lanka, Morocco and beyond. Live hockey, football and tennis from across the world. Advertiser revenue has picked up as distribution has stabilised, viewing figures continue to grow and finally we're on all over Mumbai !

It's appropriate then that our key content for the start of 2003 is based in Mumbai. We've again broken new ground with the telecast of the Indian horse racing. Just two weeks into the long-term arrangement, the feedback is already exceeding all expectations as finally racing in India is taken to the level of exposure that the sport demands across the world. We've also invested in the top international races (from the Dubai world cup to the top English races) so that we can show the image and the potential of the sport worldwide alongside the traditions of Mumbai.

In many ways, deciding on content for an Indian sports channel is not a particularly difficult job. You obviously want quality cricket played in the right time zones and the handful of international sports events that command respect in India. The challenge is to build a fixed schedule of regular programming and high quality packaging that can deliver audience figures week in and week out, earning the respect of cable operators, advertisers and above all viewers. The fact that we've done just that only eight months after launching is the biggest credit to the team of people that Chris McDonald assembled in Dubai.

Indians who took the gamble to leave settled jobs and often leave their families to come and work for Ten Sports in Dubai deserve credit for having the guts to join a start up operation, but now they can see that we are an established part of the Indian TV landmark thanks to their efforts. Our business model is an interesting one, combining the roles of broadcaster (Ten Sports) with event organiser (Sharjah, Morocco cricket), syndication outfit (selling cricket and other programming around the world) and production company (renting out staff and facilities for content that is not necessarily to be used on the channel). However, we're well aware that we'll be judged in the public perception primarily by the fortunes and content of Ten Sports.

When we launched, people questioned the need for "another" sports channel in India, but the audience figures prove not only that there was room, but also that sport touches the heart of an audience week in, week out, in a "must have" way that other channels, and other bouquets can only dream about. The investment required in a sports channel can be huge, but we've taken each step slowly and so far succesfully. 2003 presents a lot of challenges for us, but our programming line-up is looking much better and I'm sure it'll be interesting!

(The author is the vice-president, programming and events of Ten Sports. The ideas expressed here are his personal ones and indiantelevision.com need not necessarily endorse them.)

Please note that this column was sent in the last week of December 2002.

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