New Delhi: All India Radio (AIR) expects to earn Rs 7-8 crore in advertising revenue from its coverage of the ongoing Cricket World Cup, but the public service broadcaster’s news division is complaining that live commentary is eating into current affairs programming and news bulletin time.
AIR, which typically charges Rs 300 for a 10-second ad spot during regular programming, is earning Rs 7,000-10,000 for the same spot during matches.
“If team India performs well, the figure can escalate by 20-30%,” said an AIR official, who did not want to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Cricket is India’s most popular sport, and the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup, held every four years, is its biggest tournament, pitching top teams from around the world against each other. India, along with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, is co-hosting this year’s edition, which began on 19 February.
AIR will air 35 of the 49 matches that will be played during the World Cup, and has paid ICC around Rs 1 crore—at $6,250 (Rs 2.8 lakh) per match—for broadcasting rights. It has made additional investment in hiring 20-25 commentators, inviting experts and setting up commentary boxes at match venues.
The broadcaster earned Rs 4-5 crore in ad revenue from 18 matches in the 2007 World Cup. “This time, we are excited and confident of earning more revenue because many of the matches are happening in India,” said the AIR executive.
Rajeev Shukla, deputy director of sports at AIR, said the World Cup commentary, both in Hindi and English, covered 70 stations to reach 95-98% of India’s population. “We are very happy with the response and the feedback that we are getting is positive,” he said.
But AIR’s news services division, which puts together more than 500 bulletins every day in 82 languages or dialects, of which 89 are broadcast from Delhi, is unhappy.
“In Delhi alone, 12-15 news bulletins apart from programmes on current affairs and personal finance will not be aired throughout this cricketing season,” said a news division official who refused to be named, saying the issue is sensitive. “We had made a special programme on the Rail Budget (of 25 February), but it was cancelled because of cricket commentary.” The executive said AIR’s news audience is complaining.
But other officials said the broadcaster shouldn’t miss on a rare chance to earn ad revenue.
“We hardly get any advertising on radio and it would be silly not to encash the World Cup,” said the first executive cited above.
“This (World Cup) is an important event and it’s our duty to air it,” said Shukla. He, however, added that the finance minister’s Union budget speech on 28 February will be broadcast live.
Companies and brands such as ITC Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd, Lava International Ltd and Coca Cola have already started advertising during AIR’s World Cup coverage.
“Given AIR’s wide reach, it makes sense for brands to advertise, especially if they want to look beyond just the metros,” said Basabdatta Chowdhuri, chief executive of Madison Media, an arm of marketing communications group Madison Communications Pvt Ltd. “Also, AIR’s cricket commentary has always been very impressive and, invariably, the inventory goes full.”
Although both AIR and the Doordarshan network of television channels are public service broadcasters under the autonomous Prasar Bharati, the two have entered into separate deals with ICC.
The Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007 mandates that live television and radio feeds should be shared with Doordarshan and AIR for events deemed important for the nation by the government.
AIR has purchased the exclusive rights for World Cup’s radio broadcasting as no private radio broadcaster is allowed to uplink signals for news or live commentary in India.
“According to the current regulations, no private radio channel can beam current affairs programmes or live commentaries in the country since these come under the category of news,” said S. Keerthivasan, business head, radio and entertainment business, HT Media Ltd, which operates the Fever 104 FM brand. “That’s a reason why we cannot purchase rights for the matches.”
Mint is also published by HT Media Ltd.