With the BCCI media rights once again up for grabs, sports broadcasters are once again gearing up for a competitive bidding battle.
Cricket fans today would find it hard to believe that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) – the governing body of the game in the country – had to once pay the state-run broadcaster Doordarshan for telecast of matches.
Then Jagmohan Dalmiya began a battle to try and raise the game's profile in India and globally. On March 27, we will witness a battle of a different kind -- when broadcasters fight among themselves and pay through their noses to grab the right to broadcast matches.
BCCI broadcast rights have been a contentious subject, partly due to the money involved. Followers of the game have, over the years, witnessed many battles. Zee Group chief Subhash Chandra fought a pitched battle with the board after losing rights despite being the highest bidder. Nimbus won four-year broadcast rights in 2006 for Rs 2,700 crore and had to get the amount reduced after the government made it mandatory for broadcasters to share the feed with Doordarshan. The company’s next winning bid, in 2010, was annulled two years later due to lack of payment and Star won the next bid in 2012.
This month’s bid will be for five-year rights to broadcast all matches involving India, within the country as well as abroad, besides domestic matches. Rights are provided in three packages — global television rights plus rest of the world digital rights; digital rights for the Indian subcontinent; and a global consolidated rights bid.
Analysts expect strong bidding to take place. After losing its crown jewel -- IPL broadcast rights -- Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) will look to reclaim lost ground by going all out for the BCCI rights. But given Star India’s aggressive bidding strategy and its penchant for breaking the bank for sporting properties, it is anybody’s guess who will come up trumps.
In a first, the BCCI has made it clear that the rights will be awarded through an online auction. The online auction, to be held on 27 March, will start at 2 pm.
So what are the sports broadcast honchos thinking about the bids this time around?
“Star’s IPL strategy was very good. They have got it for a price that will help them in making good money and I feel they will also go all out for the BCCI rights. Their focus on monetising the digital rights and the number of channels in their sports bouquet makes them the top contender. Also, the fact that the other big player (Sony) does not have the global bandwidth to monetise the rights gives Star a big advantage,” RC Venkateish, former CEO of Dish TV and ex-India chief of erstwhile ESPN-Star Sports network, told Moneycontrol.
Venkateish, who is currently associated with Discovery’s sports channel DSPORT, believes that the digital players will have a big say on who bags the rights.
Reliance Jio is a big contender for the digital rights. He also said that with Star brilliantly executing digital rights, it may overshadow the battle for TV rights.
“Jio (RIL) and Facebook will be serious players. Jio’s continuous interest in rights and with RIL snapping up majority stake in Viacom and also being part-telecast partners for the upcoming India-Sri Lanka matches (DSPORT is the official rights holder), their intent is clear. Facebook’s bid for IPL digital rights (Rs 3,600 crore) shows that they are seriously evaluating Indian sports properties,” he added.
But won’t Walt Disney buying out Fox’s international properties bring a change in Star’s bidding strategy?
“Not at all,” said Venkateish, the best person to comment on this topic as he was the head of ESPN-Star Sports (a Walt Disney-Star JV) in India for a period of seven years (2003-10). “The deal will only make them stronger and Disney will be supportive of whatever strategy the Star India team goes for.”
Venkateish, however, refused to speculate on the amount of the winning bid.
With numerous occasions of surprise winners and ostentatious bids, the battle for Indian cricket’s telecast rights will never cease to amaze broadcasters and followers of the game.(Disclosure: Reliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd and publishes Moneycontrol.com)