Attempting to salvage its billion-dollar investment in ICC matches, sports broadcaster ESPN Star Sports on 24 April announced it would launch a dedicated cricket channel in June. Called Star Cricket, it will be India’s second cricket-only channel, after Neo Sports.
Last December, ESPN Star Sports paid about Rs4,840 crore ($1.1 billion) to the sport’s apex body, International Cricket Council, for telecast rights to all ICC matches between this year and 2015; this includes the 2011 and 2015 ICC World Cup, as well as a series of top tournaments, such as the ICC Champions Trophy and the proposed Twenty20 World Cups.
Of course, the return on its investment has got off to a shaky start with India’s early and humiliating exit from the West Indies Cup. Television ratings peaked when India was in the tournament, with India’s last game against Sri Lanka touching gross rating points of 99.64 over six and a half hours. It was a high, at least among Indian viewers, the World Cup has not witnessed since.
Outside the World Cup, signs haven’t been encouraging. In five high-profile matches featuring India against Pakistan, England, Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka over the course of a year, matches averaged GRPs of 24.45, according to television audience measurement agency aMap.
Sony reportedly had trouble selling a portion of their advertising inventory for the World Cup after India’s matches achieved lukewarm ratings during home series.
For the new channel, ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd, the holding company of ESPN and Star Sports, said exclusive telecast rights of matches controlled by the boards of Australia and England meant it would telecast 24 Test matches and 42 One Day Internationals to Indian fans in 2007. These will include matches involving India; the national team leaves for England in June and Australia in December.
It will also telecast the 27 matches of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa later this year, as well as domestic leagues in Australia, England and South Africa.
“That’s a substantial volume of high-quality cricket,” said managing director R.C. Venkateish. He declined to say how much his company paid the various boards for the rights.
The new channel will have to contend with a stricter line from advertisers, who suffered when India failed to progress to the second round, and who are likely to demand performance-related advertising contracts. In addition to this, the next World Cup will be played in Australia, where morning matches are played largely during Indian working hours. “I don’t think they’re going to get that kind of value out of the market,” said Rohit Gupta, executive vice-president, Sony Entertainment Television.
“They’ve outbid. And advertisers are not going to keep quiet after the debacle they’ve had just now. It’s going to get tougher.”
Earlier in the year, sports and entertainment company, Nimbus Communications Ltd, had paid sports authorities in India about Rs2,693 crore ($612 million) for global media rights to all international and first class domestic matches at home; this means Star Cricket will not be able to telecast any cricket involving the Indian team at home.
Shashi Kalathil, chief executive, Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt. Ltd, said he didn’t think there was a clash of interest. “Given the nature of our rights, Neo is more India-focused,” Kalathil said. “Neo’s tagline is ‘Home of Indian cricket’.”