The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zee starts chuckling

Calcutta, Nov. 29: Zee is sporting a smile and ESPN STAR Sports is uneasy. As for the rest of the sports broadcasters, they are waiting to see how things turn out.

That Sharad Pawar would end Jagmohan Dalmiya’s reign was expected, but no one is sure what the new cricket board chief’s first move on telecast rights would be.

What is certain, however, is that Zee Television, locked in a legal battle with the sport’s apex body in the country, is back in the reckoning.

Delhi High Court is hearing the petition Zee filed to cancel the bidding process for rights. Zee had moved court after it was deemed ineligible to participate by the BCCI.

“At least it will be a level playing field now,” said Himanshu Mody, head of Zee Sports. But it’s “too early to say”, he added, whether the company will continue with litigation.

“Of course, the new board will try to give it to Zee now,” said a BCCI vice-president of the Dalmiya camp, on his way back to Mumbai. “But there is bound to be a lot of legal hassles if they think of scrapping the tender and starting afresh.”

A lot is at stake for both Zee and ESPN STAR Sports. Cricket is crucial for the survival of both the recently-launched sports channel and the international sports major with a 10-year presence in India.

Zee had recently shifted focus to football by acquiring rights to the All India Football Federation matches for the next 10 years while ESPN STAR Sports has cricket featuring India in other countries such as England.

But nothing much changes for Ten Sports, Sony or public broadcaster Doordarshan, the other interested parties in the telecast battle. Sources pointed out that in case Pawar and his team opt for a fresh start, they are likely to frame guidelines to also include global sports agencies such as TWI and Nimbus.

A cause of concern for all broadcasters, however, is the government mandate for them to share the feed of all matches featuring India with Doordarshan. “Cable & satellite penetration has always been pushed by cricket. The compulsory share diktat will not only affect that growth but also lessen the value of the BCCI rights,” said a sports channel official.

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