How Star Sports created 'Cricket Connected' while staying distant

The show is made from home amid the COVID-19 scare

MUMBAI: In the absence of live sports amid COVID-19, Star Sports, in order to keep cricket enthusiasts engaged, had launched a talk show called Cricket Connected.

“Cricket Connected is an attempt to create a window every week for fans to connect with each other and with cricket legends," says a source close to Star Sports.

The show has, so far, featured cricket legends such as Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra, Gautam Gambhir, VVS Laxman, Kevin Pietersen, among others, along with host Jatin Sapru. It is produced both in Hindi and English. So far, three episodes of the show have already been released.

The show is an output of video conference of cricket legends along with a moderator (anchor), and it required a complete re-design of production. “We have not done anything like this in the past and don’t believe anyone has ever done the same so far,” says the source. “We create virtual connections with the help of video conference application Zoom, on which we have added a layer of technology that allows us to produce a call in a typical chat show format.”

The lockdown has forced everyone to stay indoors but the show must go on. Hence, the broadcaster has allowed one of its directors, who used to direct Hindi IPL, to set up a production control in his living room. He, from his house, not only monitors, records the conference call as a show, but also remotely accesses the archives to get relevant footage. The director also gives final touches to show from his makeshift PCR.

To guide the moderator and panellists and to maintain the pre-decided flow of the show, the director and a producer join the call only through audio. The operation remains very similar to a typical production. However, the production design is very different from the one done via a proper production control room.

The show is a combination of video conference features, relevant contextual visuals and one-on-one Instagram video chats of current cricketers along with two dedicated segments like Kids Connected and #AskStar. Kids Connected is a segment, wherein the broadcaster urges viewers to send clips of cricket-enthusiastic children either commentating or anchoring about cricket and #AskStar is an interactive segment during which a question asked by a cricket fan is answered by one of the panellists.

The two major challenges the broadcaster faced while producing the show were good internet bandwidth and the two-second lag during video call. “We record the call in the morning before 1 pm for good bandwidth to ensure the content that we are producing is in line with our broadcasting quality,” source explains.

Whereas, to overcome the second issue we started giving a cue to the next speaker during a live conference call. Source adds, “We built a customised solution on the Zoom application that allows the anchor to actually know when the expert is finished talking and helps to maintain the flow.”

Not every cricket veteran is tech-savvy and understands the video call. Hence, the broadcaster ensures that each of the panellists is given a detailed brief about the show flow and a tutorial of the Zoom call prior to recording. The anchor being a bridge between the panellists and viewers, is also briefed a day prior to the recording. Cricket experts join the video conference call either through mobile phones or laptop cameras.

"Generally, the idea and flow of the show is decided on Monday of every week and the conference calls take place either on Thursday or Friday morning. Moreover, the one-on-one interaction between two cricketers is recorded as per their availability. We also allow the panellists to choose their video call background but suggest them to maintain the look and feel quite natural,” Source reveals.

The content strategy of the show revolves around four basic pillars: news points, great stories, anecdotes, and interactive segments that talk about the life of current players under lockdown.

“We wish to discuss cricket topics that are relevant and contextual; topics that are not making news but have the potential to be news,” the source says while talking about the first pillar of content strategy. “We choose the content that is relevant in the week. Something that will get fans to discuss on social media and are likely to be trending.”

The source further adds, “The second pillar of our content strategy is to pick up interesting moments from cricket history, which are still relevant and can be given new angles. We choose topics that have great stories and anecdotes around them to keep them trending for a week.”

The third pillar is about interactive sessions, wherein the aim is to create engagement with viewers and cricket fans through social media, a quiz on the life of a sporting star, or an important cricket match in history. The most important pillar out of all four is the last one wherein it attempts to show the life of current cricket stars under lockdown and give glimpses of their lifestyle.

There hasn’t been a specific marketing strategy to promote this show. The show is an alternative to live cricket but is likely to be continued for a long time. So far, the first episode has gained a cumulative reach of 8.3 million and overall watch-time of 48.6 million.

Star Sports is also mulling to take this show to regional languages such as Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Though it’s in the primary stage, the broadcaster is likely to come out the same show in Tamil in the next 10 days, which will rope in cricket experts from that region, who would talk about CSK as a team and its players as well as about the Tamil Nadu team’s performance in Ranji Trophy. The broadcaster is also thinking of coming up with the same format in football in order to engage the Indian soccer fans.

So far, the broadcaster has not onboarded any sponsors or advertisers. With the rising traction, sources close to Star Sports mentioned that the network is planning to go to market with this show

The upcoming episode of Cricket Connected will feature unknown achievements of Sachin Tendulkar as his birthday (24 April) that falls during this week. The episode will also feature KL Rahul, who turned 28 last weekend. The original telecast of the show is scheduled every Saturday at 7 pm and 9 pm. However, re-runs are shown till Tuesday of the following week.

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