| Ricky Ponting in action at the Eden Gardens. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Nov. 18: Very Very Slippery Laxman had Doordarshan for company today. He missed catches and Very Very Sloppy DD missed some of the match.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting had just got out, caught Laxman — somehow this one succeeded in staying within his palms. When an over began after this, Harbhajan Singh was through with three of his six deliveries before viewers caught his first glimpse.
In the Indian reply, after Laxman departed, Andy Bichel started a new over — the 13th of the innings. When Eden Gardens flickered back on screen, his first ball was already zipping down the leg into Adam Gilchrist’s gloves.
Meanwhile, the young man on screen would have just finished pulling at something in the region of his groin in the VIP ad or whatever.
Much as viewers had got used to seeing mostly five-ball overs this tournament, shown only on DD, at least some of them found the same routine on the day of the final, well, not quite cricket.
Gurbux Singh, former Indian hockey captain, said: “It is extremely irritating when the batsman plays a splendid shot off the last delivery of the over or gets dismissed and the screen is swamped with a parade of products, from toothpaste to automobiles.”
At DD’s central production centre in New Delhi’s Siri Fort, a team of seven marketing executives and engineers sits watching the match. One is at the keyboard of the computer that runs the commercials during live telecast. It’s sheer guesswork. The technicians are told there are 40-second slots between overs when the ads can run. But there is no monitor that shows the bowler’s end.
“The production people on the ground do not follow the bowler’s ends between overs. So, when our people on the commercial team in Delhi switch back to the ground, it is usually when the bowler is into his run. It might be too late to add or delete. Despite that, it is remarkable that we have not missed a single delivery,” asserts DD’s Mumbai-based marketing director Vijaylakshmi Chhabbra who is in charge of selling commercial time for the cricket series.
Chhabbra will find few believers.
In the 36th over, the frame froze leaving fast bowler Nathan Bracken static in the middle of his run-up. DD switched to ads. And then there was not even that. When the picture came back, Rahul Dravid had just played the ball onto his stumps.
From the current tournament, DD is making Rs 92 crore — the marketing done by its own team. Commercial time was sold for the entire series: Rs 4 crore from each of the presenting sponsors — Hero Honda, Pepsi and BSNL — and Rs 3 crore from each of the associate sponsors —LG, Alpenliebe, Maruti, Castrol and Pidilite. In exchange, the presenting sponsors have got between 350-400 seconds of commercial time per match and the associate sponsors 250-300 seconds.
In addition, DD has spot buys — Rs 75,000 for a 10-second slot on DD Sports (for cable and satellite homes) and Rs 65,000 for a 10-second slot on DD National. It claims not to sell more than 5900-6000 seconds of commercial time per match.
If a match does not last its full quota of 100 overs, advertisers demand that the time they have paid for be made good, Chhabbra said. But the matches are insured.
At times — and certainly in the final — DD has looked in a hurry in the early part of the match to pack in as many ads as possible. Is it because a premature end to a match means loss of revenue'
Chhabbra said selling commercial time for the current series was an achievement.
“Had we given it to a marketing agency, they would have offered something like Rs 15-16 crore. Our experience shows we have been undersold in the past.”
This time, DD may have oversold commercial time. From her office in Bombay, Chhabbra is on two telephones at once — to Calcutta and to her team in Delhi, issuing instructions that commercials can be cut but not a delivery.
The Delhi team is edgy, as it tries to balance the demands of advertisers and viewers. “We take great care. Sometimes it still becomes difficult because all that is happening on the ground is not programmed,” said one of them.
The cricket telecast is produced for DD by WSG Nimbus. But such a necessary accessory as a monitor giving continuous coverage for the backend is missing.
Maybe DD should learn from rivals. ESPN-STAR Sports, for instance, has a database on the time that elapses in various countries between the end of one over and the beginning of the next.
The gap is longer in Australia and South Africa where because of the pitches fast bowlers are used more than in, say, India where there’s a lot of spin bowling. There are other parameters, too.
Sanjay Kailash, director, ad sales, ESPN-STAR Sports, said: “We keep 3 to 4 seconds of grace period between two overs to ensure that ads and playtime don’t overlap. The production team is very strict. We goofed up only once in three years during the telecast of a series.”
There is at least one person, Raju Mukherji, former Bengal captain, who prefers ads to expert comments on DD. “The ads sure disrupt the flow of the game, but are any day more palatable than the heap of rubbish the Doordarshan panel of experts has been subjecting the viewer to.”
As the Alpenliebe ad says: “Lagey raho, DD, lagey raho.”