Everybody wants in on cricket broadcasts, but not everybody can make profits.
In a report released in May, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India revealed that Prasar Bharati lost money on cricket broadcasts in 2004. These, if you recall, were two home series featuring Australia (four Tests) and South Africa (two Tests), and a one-day match with Pakistan—the top bracket of opponents. At the time when the public broadcaster was awarded the rights while the other contenders fought in court over long-term cricket broadcast rights, these series were estimated to be worth up to 15% of the four-year broadcast rights, for which bidding had reached $308 million.
CAG estimates that Prasar Bharati lost Rs9.98 crore while broadcasting 30 days of test cricket matches and a one-day match. How? By not charging normal advertising rates, Prasar Bharati gave up Rs51.59 crore of revenue. At full rates, Rs121.12 crore stood to be made. How it lost money on high-profile cricket in India’s biggest cricket year (a series win in Pakistan and a draw in Australia) is a wonder.
Earlier that year, Ten Sports charged up to Rs4.5 lakh for 10 seconds of advertising time in a Pakistan-India match. Doordarshan (DD), for some reason, charged advertisers as little as Rs8,000. The ministry of information and broadcasting argued that it had acquired the rights overnight, which gave it no time to work out advertising rates. Yet, two days after being given the rights, K.S. Sarma, chief executive, had said it had sold spots worth Rs60 crore in one day, and that the response was good. There is more than a hint of double-talk here.
The CAG report offers insights into the way officials at the state-run broadcaster think. Monetizing the country’s biggest television property was beyond them. They acquired rights for cheap (reportedly around $20 million) without a marketing and acquisition plan, and paid dearly. This is an organization funded by taxpayers. It is also endorsed by a large number who believe that cricket broadcasts should be made free for every Indian.
The broadcaster used to play up this “public interest” factor, most often only days before a new cricket series. The man at its helm, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, has told everyone who cares to listen that cricket will not be held hostage by private broadcasters. A game becomes an event of national importance, cloaking the greed driving the intention. But DD has had its wish. The sports broadcast Bill of this year makes it mandatory for nearly all cricket feed to be shared with DD.
The broadcaster hasn’t shown any inclination to fall in line or change its ways. Its bids for cricket rights have been notional, well below the market price. Taking on the role of statist saviour, it has battled private broadcasters before and during every recent cricket series. Its will to be seen doing good far exceeds its will to be productive.
Besides knowing that the good ministry is interested in our well-being, what should we expect? Not better coverage, surely. Certainly not six balls in an over. And definitely not better analysis. It is easier to invest in the spectacle than the sport itself. Prasar Bharati is unorganized and unprofessional, and the CAG report highlights its magnitude. That this is tax-payer money at stake makes the ineptitude even more annoying.
Greed comes with a price. Private channels pay enormous sums for cricket these days. Nimbus paid the Indian cricket board $612 million. The ESPN-Star combine has paid the International Cricket Council over $1.1 billion for major international events. Both deals include international matches in India, where more than half of international cricket’s money comes from. Privately, broadcasters feared that the broadcast Bill would be approved. Now that it has, what incentive do they have to invest in a sport where contractual rights do not matter?
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