New boss, old telecast game - Shadow on Nimbus cricket rights

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  • Published 17.02.06

Mumbai, Feb. 17: Nimbus Communications Ltd outbid established sports broadcasters, clinching a $612.18-million (Rs 2,706.5 crore) contract from the cricket board to telecast international matches played in the country for the next four years.

As before, the bidding process has got sucked into a controversy as soon as it was over with suggestions of unfair play since Nimbus has a business arrangement with Zee Sports, which was one of the bidders. Zee was the third-highest bidder at $530 million.

“We are not completely satisfied with the bidding. We feel Zee and Nimbus could have worked in tandem,” said a senior official of Anil Ambani-owned Adlabs, a bidder.

Nimbus will have the right to transmit, exhibit and distribute globally all audio, visual and text material on events conducted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and exploit them commercially from March 1, 2006 to March 31, 2010.

The other contenders were ESPN-STAR Sports, SET Satellite Singapore PTE, Zee, Sahara One and US players Direc TV and Eco Star.

BCCI vice-president Lalit Modi and Zee Telefilms vice-president Ashish Kaul hailed the bidding process as “fair and transparent”.

Some of the rivals, however, expressed suspicion that Nimbus, which is a marketing company, will resell the rights to Zee. The Zee Telefilms scrip shot up by 3 per cent on the Bombay Stock Exchange as soon as the winner’s name was announced.

According to unconfirmed reports, ESPN-STAR ? the second bidder with an offer of $550 million ? and some other bidders were huddled in a strategy meeting tonight.

Kaul said: “Nimbus qualified for the bid from all angles. I wish them the very best.”

He added though that Nimbus, which is a production house and does not own channels, would require a television platform. “We would be very happy if they would like to partner Zee,” Kaul said.

Nimbus chairman Hareesh Thawani said: “Our final strategy for the telecast rights would be announced on February 20. We may acquire an existing channel, or resell the rights to multiple channels or enter into a partnership with one. As of now the modalities are being worked out but, eventually, we may even launch our own channel.”

Coverage under the new agreement, which spans cable, broadband and Internet and direct-to-home, as well as radio, starts with the England series, beginning March 1.

Cricket rights have been mired in legal cases since September 2004 when BCCI had to back out of a $308-million, four-year deal with Zee, after being taken to court by the unsuccessful bidder, ESPN-Star.

Nimbus’s winning bid is nearly twice that amount and the new Sharad Pawar-led BCCI dispensation can claim to have added that much more value to what its Jagmohan Dalmiya-led predecessor had managed. “We feel BCCI had been grossly undervalued and undersold during the Dalmiya regime,” said I.S. Bindra, a marketing committee member.

The contract directs Nimbus to comply with government regulations on sharing of rights with Doordarshan.

The rights for transmission of matches and related material through any mobile device, as film or on any fixed medium remain with BCCI. Nimbus is also excluded from Internet highlights of matches and award ceremonies.