The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cricket telecast war escalates

Oct. 1: Before the first ball is bowled in the Australia series, cricket is going down to the wire again.

Uncertainty No. 1: Sachin Tendulkar is in the team but he can play only if he clears a fitness test.

Uncertainty No. 2: You have to wait till Tuesday ' a day before the Bangalore Test ' for the final word on whether or where you will be able to watch the match on television.

The telecast tussle returned to haunt the Australia series, which had crept out of a cloud after a back-up plan was unveiled, with an infuriated Prasar Bharati throwing its hat into the ring and Zee contesting in court the board's decision to award the distribution rights to Sony Television Network.

Under the BCCI's stand-by plan, Ten Sports would have produced the series for the board, Sony would have distributed it and the terrestrial (non-cable) rights would have gone to Prasar's Doordarshan.

Zee also suggested in its fresh application it can telecast the series 'entirely at our risk and cost without any equities in our favour'. 'In case the cancellation (of the contract) is upheld, we will deposit the entire advertisement revenue collected (both on our channel as well as on Doordarshan after deducting the agency sales commission) with the BCCI,' it added.

But Prasar has now insinuated that it was led up the garden path by BCCI. The public broadcaster feels the board gave it the impression the telecast would be produced by it for beaming on Doordarshan.

'We are an aggrieved party as our bid for the telecast rights is higher than Sony's,' Prasar CEO K.S. Sarma said today. 'BCCI should have first negotiated terms with us before taking it up with Sony.'

Prasar Bharati will move the Supreme Court on Monday. Sarma said in the original bidding, too, Prasar had offered to pay more than Sony.

'We were the third highest bidder after Zee and ESPN-STAR Sports,' he said. 'Since Zee and ESPN are in dispute, BCCI should have asked us to telecast the matches. For the last week, we have been hearing that the matches will be produced by BCCI and telecast on Doordarshan. Yet, yesterday BCCI said the rights will be given to Sony.'

He pointed out that 'Doordarshan is the incumbent (outgoing) broadcaster' having held the rights for the preceding five years. 'The status of Prasar Bharati as the public broadcaster and the vast terrestrial reach of Doordarshan National can also not be overlooked,' Sarma said.

Asked if the broadcaster was equipped to market the matches and share advertising revenue, he said: 'In terms of marketing cricket, Doordarshan is totally different from what it was years ago.'

In the Supreme Court today, Zee based its case on the argument that BCCI should not have made the announcement yesterday as the matter is 'sub judice'.

'When the matter is sub judice, how come they (BCCI) decided to award the contract to any other channel' asked former law minister Ram Jethmalani, who appeared for Zee.

The court fixed Tuesday for taking up the application as a Constitution bench is slated to hear the main petition of Zee challenging cancellation of the bidding process.

Zee, which made a final offer of $308 million, listed bids by other channels: ESPN $230 million, Prasar Bharati $150 million, Sony $132 million and Ten Sports $115 million.

Sony CEO Kunal Dasgupta said: 'We are planning to show the matches on MAX in India and sell the rights for abroad.'

On Doordarshan, he said: 'We had offered them a deal, but if they want to go ahead and fight for it, let them. They haven't got back to us on our offer.' He did not reveal details of the terrestrial telecast deal.

Ten Sports refused comment but sources said it is making arrangements for producing the Australia series.

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