New Delhi: Barely 48 hours after India TV, promoted by Rajat Sharma’s broadcast company Independent News Service Pvt. Ltd, offered a former Indian spinner Rs25 lakh to be a part of the channel’s expert panel during the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, the cricketer “regretted” —through a text message—that he could not be on India TV as a rival channel had offered him a better deal.
If India TV’s managing editor Vinod Kapri is to be believed, the story is not exclusive to the channel. As the World Cup fever catches on, the battle among news channels to hire former cricketers as experts has intensified.
As cricketers from 14 nations get ready for a pitched battle for the trophy, a battery of former players from cricket-playing nations is being enticed by Hindi and English news channels for fees ranging from Rs10 lakh to Rs2 crore for the 45-day period.
Sonali Chander, sports editor and anchor at NDTV 24x7, said: “The quality of experts on the channel is what actually defines the success of shows.” Little surprise then that the channel has signed on former players Sunil Gavaskar and Ajay Jadeja as experts. Retired Australian cricketer Dean Jones will also be a World Cup expert on NDTV 24x7. The channel has already launched its cricket programmes, including 2-minute capsules with a quiz and other trivia on the World Cup.
Times Now, the 24-hour English news channel owned by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, has roped in former players Arun Lal and Ravi Shastri.
“We have eight international cricketers on the panel though it’s too early to give away names. While most of our panellists will be for the World Cup, we might retain some for the IPL,” said Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief, Times Now.
To attract viewers and advertisers, news channels are offering big bucks to “branded” cricketers. According to senior executives at news channels, former players of the calibre of Imran Khan, Gavaskar or Kapil Dev (who is already anchoring on Aaj Tak), command between Rs50 lakh and Rs2 crore for the World Cup. Most news channel editors did not want to be quoted on the money being spent on cricketers as these spends are confidential.
According to Kapri of India TV, former Pakistan cricket captains such as Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas are likely to cost Rs30-40 lakh each for the 45 days. Companies would end up spending another Rs15-20 lakh per person on their stay in India. Even younger cricketers such as Anjum Chopra and Akash Chopra are expected to take home Rs8-10 lakh for a minimum of 30 days, said channel executives.
Even as the programming cost of news channels during the World Cup soars, the specials are likely to attract viewers and, hence, more advertising. According to Mona Jain, chief operating officer of VivaKi Exchange, the media buying agency for Publicis Groupe SA, news channels should be able to push up their revenue by 15-20% during the period. “Most news channels rope in big names, create interesting content and package it well to get more eyeballs. Don’t forget that for non-India matches, which people may not always want to watch in entirety, news channels become a good platform to catch the highlights with expert views too,” she said.
Another senior marketing executive of an English news channel agreed that the return on investment on cricket properties is immense. “A regular 10-second ad spot rate sees a jump by 40-50% because of the premium that is attached on such programmes,” said this executive. He didn’t want to be quoted since he’s not authorized to speak to the media.
Neeraj Sanan, vice-president and head (marketing and distribution) at Media Content and Communications Services India Pvt. Ltd, which manages Hindi channel Star News, feels that more than big names, it’s important to reach out to audiences with sharp, focused and precise programming. “World Cup is critical to India not only because it has strong chances to win but also because Sachin Tendulkar is a part of the event,” said Sanan. The channel has roped in Tendulkar’s friends, including Saba Karim and Vinod Kambli.
India TV, meanwhile, will experiment with shows such as Bigg Toss, a talk show with 12-14 celebrities, including small-screen stars Dolly Bindra and Veena Malik—last seen on reality show Bigg Boss 4.
NDTV 24x7 plans to have “fun” shows according to Chander. While Crazy for Cricket is a 2-minute capsule that looks at maverick fans of the game, the channel will also have panellists sharing anecdotes from their respective cricketing careers.
In a week’s time Pitch Battle, a 1-hour special show with a total of five episodes will air daily and look in detail at what viewers can expect during the World Cup.