The tragedy of television

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Peter Hutton
Peter Hutton
CEO, Taj Entertainment Network

IPL and T20 are draining the little money left in other forms of cricket

CRICKET AND TELEVISION bring easy, positive phrases to mind. Television is the globalising, educating, entertaining force that also funds the world of cricket. The rapid growth of Indian television has brought unexpected billions into the game and cricket is what drives that growing media market.

It seems to be a perfect match. But television does not want all cricket, it wants cricket that serves its needs. It wants games at times that suit its schedules. It wants games that fit an audience’s attention span. It wants games with a crowd and atmosphere.

The tube rules Fans in Raipur, Chhattisgarh watch the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007
The tube rules Fans in Raipur, Chhattisgarh watch the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007
Phot: Shailendra Pandey

The remarkable successes of the ICC and IPL in winning billion-dollar broadcasting contracts should not mask the fact that the money in cricket comes largely out of an Indian cricket advertising pie that has fuelled the growth of the game since the mid-1990s.

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The amount of money being spent on the IPL and the ICC inevitably means less money available from Indian advertisers for other forms of the game.

The lucrative pay-per-view market of Asian expats in America is now falling in value thanks to illegal platforms for live cricket on the Internet. Similarly, pirated Indian channels in the Middle East have reduced the number of paying television subscribers in that part of the world.

In the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Africa there is increasingly just one serious buyer in each market for international cricket. Without competition, there is no need to pay increasing amounts. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the West Indies continue to fail to raise significant monies.

The consequence of the proposed ‘windows’ for the IPL is that the rest of cricket will be squeezed into smaller periods of the year, reducing their value. My own channel broadcasts cricket from 5 of the nations and the biggest waste is when matches clash and viewers are split between tours.

Television does not want all cricket, it wants cricket that serves its needs, suits its schedules and attention spans

In advertiser-driven markets such as India, clashes between matches reduce the number of viewers per game, which reduces the advertising income.

It is not just the dates of the tours – it’s also the dates and times of the matches. There are often days with four international games on at the same time. The next day, there are none. Moving test cricket to daynight events would certainly increase the viewership, as would having more games on the weekend.

Adding T20 games to normal tour schedules would also increase audience. The recent T20 games between India and Sri Lanka and India and New Zealand had almost double the number of viewers compared to the 50 over games that preceded them.

Alongside its startling successes, the IPL has also brought with it a much more commercially focussed commentary. Mentions of the “DLF Super Sixes” or the “Citi Moments of Success” punctuate the commentary. This unfortunate trend will only grow if not restrained. The ICC has introduced welcome controls on commercial content in its own events, but more boards need to take this high minded approach to control the requirements of the advertising agencies.

Technical improvements in cricket continue to reveal more of the game, with Australia’s Channel 9 and the UK’s Sky Sports leading the way, I am happy to see developments that genuinely explain the game and potentially make decisions fairer.

For cricket to understand television needs and for television to play a positive role in the sport, there is a need for wider dialogue and for more television experts to be working with and for the board. The ICC has made a first step with appointments from the broadcasting world at its headquarters. The more boards that bring television expertise into their fold, the better.

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