New Delhi, India -- Pay-television programmers here are
expanding into sports programming, and there's no room for a 98-pound weakling.
In its effort to break into sports, Sony Entertainment
Television (SET) recently spent $7.5 million to sponsor a series of cricket matches
organized by the Sri Lanka Cricket Board. Rival Zee TV signed an agreement with the Nepal
Cricket Association, and will invest $1 million to build a sports stadium in Katmandu,
Nepal, giving it a forum to promote sporting events -- especially cricket -- all year
"A sports channel is expensive to launch. We are very
keen to promote cricket, because it is the only sport in the subcontinent which fetches
huge viewers and gets back large revenue returns in record time," said Zee vice
president of corporate communications Rajan Bakshi.
SET CEO Kunal Dasgupta said the programmer's sponsorship
will "help us build a higher viewership, since cricket is seen as the ultimate form
of entertainment. Ever since we started the Sri Lanka series, we have registered a 300
percent increase in viewership. Gaining experience in sports telecasting will also help us
when we launch our own sports channel."
The networks' sports expansion comes during a wider
programming push at both SET and Zee. SET plans to launch its sports network by February
and to bow three additional local-language regional channels soon after that. It's looking
to secure $46.5 million in external financing to fund the startups.
Zee expects to launch its sports channel next February or
March. In addition, Zee aims to bow eight more networks targeting local-language groups
and news, and is investing $232 million toward that effort.
The push is part of a drive to derive subscriber fees from
cable operators. Few networks have been able to do so and are relying entirely on ad
In many markets the term "pay TV" refers to all
cable and satellite programming, but in India it comprises only those few networks able to
charge carriage fees.
"Sports will help propel the pay TV platform that SET
and Zee are planning," said Siddartha Ray, CEO of Stracon, a company that produces
sports programming for state broadcaster Doordarshan. "They will emerge as a real
threat to ESPN Star Sports in the years ahead."
SET and Zee could face some hurdles in the cricket market.
In August, the Board of Control of Cricket for India (BCCI) agreed to give Doordarshan
rights to all of the international cricket matches it sanctions over the next five years
for $46.5 million.
SET, Zee and ESPN Star Sports (which already has a
considerable cricket lineup) also bid on the rights. BCCI said it agreed to grant the
rights to Doordarshan because it has the widest reach: 55 million homes.
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