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New channel wars

V Krishnaswamy | June 26, 2004

With the busy cricket season around the corner, it is again time for TV channels to open their cheque books and start bidding for rights.

And for channels who had been hit hard by the success of TEN Sports, which had the rights to the recent India-Pakistan Test and one-day series in Pakistan, it is time to make a comeback and ensure that it does not lose out.

Sony, which established itself as a big player with the World Cup last year, clawed back into the frame with the global telecast rights for the three-nation tournament that is scheduled in the Netherlands.

The tournament, which has still not been named -- naming rights will probably go to the sponsor -- features three of the biggest draws in world cricket. India, Pakistan and Australia play in Amsterdam from August 22 to 29.

Earlier, ESPN-Star Sports bagged the rights to the Asia Cup to be held in Sri Lanka next month. The Asia Cup, to be played between India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong, will be held from July 16 to August 2.

Meanwhile, there is also the question of the cricket series in India later this year, the rights for which will be put up for bidding by the Board for Control of Cricket in India. That fight will take place in August.

While the costs for rights never get known precisely, it is estimated that rights for the Asia Cup cost ESPN-Star Sports about $9 million, while the tournament in Holland cost $3 million.

Interestingly, there will be just four matches in the Netherlands, while the Asia Cup has as many as 13 matches. In the case of both rights, radio and on-ground sponsorships also seemed to have been bundled into the package.

In both cases, the TV channels seem to be banking on the timing of the matches. While nine of the 13 matches in Asia Cup in Sri Lanka will be held under floodlights, the four matches in the Netherlands will start at 10.30 am in Amsterdam, which will be about 2 pm in India and the matches will end around 10 pm, making it prime-time viewing.

For Sony, getting the event in the Netherlands was important considering it needs to also build up its other big property, the 2004 Champions Trophy, which is being hosted by England from September 10 to 25.

In the past, Sony used the Champions Trophy to act as a 'preview' of sorts to the main event. In 2002 it splashed the Champions Trophy as the 'early-view' 2003 World Cup contenders. And now the three-nation event in the Netherlands will be labeled as the same for 2004 Champions Trophy.

ESPN-Star Sports, which has everyone glued to it during the Euro 2004 soccer championships, may not feel too bad about losing the Amsterdam event, because the Dutch event also clashes with the Olympics.

The Olympic Games in Athens will be held from August 13 to August 29, 2004 and Doordarshan has all the rights to that mega event. With its reach, DD can be expected to make a dent in Sony's plans for the Dutch tournament.

While cricket will certainly have its loyal and crazy audience, the Olympics, which come around once in four years, have always had big backers.

In this case, what will also be crucial is that Samsung, one of the big sponsors in cricket, now are also the sponsors of the Indian Olympic team and are also one of the global sponsors. It is probably with this view that Sony may be targeting Videocon to back the tournament in the Netherlands.

These are going to be interesting times with various channels ploughing so much money into TV rights, but soon that may sound like small change, when the rights to the telecast rights for series in India come up for bidding for the next four years. That will be the biggest prize of all for any channel.

Currently, the rights to all series in India are with Doordarshan, and Sony holds all rights to ICC events till the ICC World Cup and Champions Trophy rights till 2007.

Sony has already invested a lot in ICC rights, ESPN-Star Sports has a lot of cricket outside India and TEN Sports has tasted blood during the recent India-Pakistan series. So, it could be a close three-cornered fight. A channel war for rights makes a cricket match between India and Pakistan look like tiddlywinks in comparison.

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