Dec 15, 2010, 03.23 PM | Source: Reuters
Cricket's position as India's most popular sport is beyond doubt, but an Indian TV channel is broadcasting live NBA matches in the cricket-mad country, convinced basketball can take the number two spot.
Earlier this month, the National Basketball Association (NBA) signed multi-year deals with Taj Television and Multi Screen Media (MSM) to broadcast games in India.
Under the deal, MSM, majority-owned by Sony Pictures, will broadcast two live games a week on its English-language movie channel PIX while Taj Television will broadcast two live games per week on its Ten Sports channel.
"Cricket is number one but there is also a viewer fatigue that is clearly settling in," Sunder Aaron, channel head for PIX, told Reuters in an interview.
"If you remove the top-shelf properties like IPL and you look at the average cricket ratings through the year, you see a steady decline (in viewership). I think because there's so much cricket, it's cricket overkill.
"I think that fatigue, coupled with natural curiosity for other sports, is going to lead to some other sports developing and catching ... fire. I believe that basketball will be one of those sports.
"No reason why it can't become the number two sport in India and we certainly want to play a part in that."
Indian fans will be able to watch a record number of live games as a result of the deals, which are part of the NBA's expansion in a country with 1.2 billion people.
According to the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the sport has more than four million active participants in India.
While Aaron believes basketball can nudge ahead of other sports to grab the spot after cricket, he admitted it was going to be a "challenge" to sell the game in India.
"It's a challenge for sure to market the game in India. We have to be very shrewd and very savvy," the executive said, adding that he expected the deal will show a 30% to 50% improvement on the time slot for the channel.
"It's not going to be on hoardings and billboards to be very frank. We have to make the effort and identify those basketball playing communities and reach out to them.
"Hopefully it will not only attract new people to the channel to watch basketball but also help increase the amount of time spent per viewer on the channel."
The NBA is the second sports property that is aired on Pix after the FA Cup football.
"We thought having some limited sports on the channel is beneficial. We are seeing great results from the FA Cup football and we wanted to find another sport like that," Aaron said.
"When it comes to premium sports leagues throughout the world in any sport, the NBA is right up there. It's a no-brainer for us to be involved with them. The NBA is sexy."