The long-suffering Indian cricket fan doesn’t know what to do!
For, as if tolerating the excessive amount of intrusive advertising during cricket matches wasn’t enough, s/he now has to contend with the surfeit of cricket channels in India that are popping up faster than scams!
Just sample the number of sports channels that are on air today: ESPN, Star Sports, Star Cricket, SET Max, NEO Sports, NEO Cricket, Ten Sports and now Ten Cricket!
Given that (unlike football) cricket is still played among just a handful of nations, do we really need so many channels?
A look at the above list shows that over a third of them are exclusive cricket channels – a trend started by Star Sports with its Star Cricket channel. I don’t understand what is the need for exclusive cricket channels. What was wrong with the earlier method of showing cricket matches on the regular sports channels? No one really has the time to watch cricket all day long, nor is there enough cricketing action going on simultaneously around the world to justify so many dedicated cricket channels. So why has every broadcaster taken to launching a dedicated cricket channel?
The answer is simple – none of the broadcasters has exclusive rights to more than one or two tournaments in a year. So how do you earn as much as you used to, even with reduced amount of content? By:
- Launching multiple channels and distributing the content across those,
- Increasing the cost of each channel
- Increasing the amount of advertising during cricket matches
This is exactly what has happened over the past few years. Today, the cost of sports channels (around 7-8 in all) is about 30% of the total cost of the all-inclusive packages offered by DTH operators (which typically contain about 150-odd channels). For example, Tata Sky’s Grand Pack offers 129 channels at a cost of Rs. 3,850 per year. This, of course, does not include the 7 major sports channels, which come separately in the Sports Bonanza Pack at a cost of Rs. 1,750 per year! This is about 40% of the cost of the other channels combined!
Coming to advertising, it really doesn’t need much explanation. Every Indian cricket fan knows how unreasonable and ridiculous the levels of advertising are nowadays.
The levels of advertising first started increasing around 2002-03, when any break in play began to be used to show ads. Viewers began to be deprived of watching change of balls, players being treated by physios, etc. Even tourism infomercials that used to be shown during breaks highlighting the beauty of the host city began to be cut out. But it was still within reasonable limits.
It was after the launch of NEO Sports in 2006 that advertising really began to get aggressive (probably due to the exorbitant rates NEO Sports paid to BCCI for broadcasting rights). If a four was hit on the last ball of an over, broadcasters would cut to ads sometimes even before it crossed the boundary line! If a wicket fell, the ads would begin immediately even before the replay was shown. Sometimes, a calculation mistake would lead to an ad break even before the over was completed!
SET Max picked up on the trend and took it to its extreme during the 2007 World Cup. Don’t we all remember the 2007 World Cup final where there was an interruption due to poor light in the final moments of the match, and the viewers who were anxiously watching to see what would happen next were instead subjected to an extended ad break, with play resuming only after the players had taken the field again and the bowler was ready with the ball in hand!
Advertising has continued to get worse since then, with more and more ads and less and less cricket being shown. If you switch to a cricket broadcast today, what are the odds that you will straightaway see live action instead of ads?
Watching cricket has become quite brainless today. The emphasis is only on the live action and not much on the finer points of the game, which commentators usually talk about during short breaks, such as before the start of the over or during replays. It is like watching a Govinda movie where you are only expected to enjoy the experience, not appreciate the finer points and learn and grow.
I think the Government seriously has to look at the ever-increasing subscription costs of sports channels, which becomes all the more unreasonable considering the number of ads that they show during matches.
In western countries, channels are given the choice between being free-to-air (and showing ads) or being subscription-based (without any ads). But in India, lack of regulation means channels can have their cake and eat it too. Where else does the viewer have to pay exorbitant costs to watch the channel, and still be bombarded with ads?
One solution would be to separate the production companies from broadcasters, and to disallow exclusive broadcasting rights. So a sports federation (like BCCI) would sell the production rights to some company, and that company would be free to sell broadcasting rights to multiple channels even within the same geographical region. That way, the same cricket content would be available on multiple channels, which would reduce the costs and hassles for subscribers.
Any other solutions? Feel free to write in…