BCCI starts the search for the perfect channel

Published: Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:India's cricket chiefs began a frenetic search for a broadcaster to show next month's home series against world champions Australia after cancelling a controversial 308-million-dollar television deal.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Tuesday withdrew a four-year deal with Zee Telefilms which had been challenged in the Bombay High Court by rival pan-Asian network ESPN-Star Sports.

The BCCI's move to cancel the agreement with Zee prompted ESPN-Star Sports to withdraw its case and paved the way for a new broadcaster to be chosen for the four-Test series starting in Bangalore on October 6.

The Board argued it had not formalised the deal with Zee on paper and promised to return the interim advance of 20 million dollars paid by the network.

But Zee, India's largest listed media company, cried foul and threatened to move the Supreme Court on what it said was "a clear collusion and conspiracy" between the cricket Board and ESPN-Star Sports to scuttle the deal.

"The BCCI has given us a letter of intent and have taken 20 million dollars from us, so how can anyone say that the rights do not legitimately belong to us?," a Zee spokesman said.

BCCI official Ratnakar Shettty scoffed at Zee's claim, saying "there was no contractual obligation as such."

"A draft letter of intent had been exchanged by both parties. It was not a confirmation letter since Zee themselves were not agreeable to certain clauses.

"Therefore, no papers were signed although it is a fact that they deposited 20 million dollars with us."

The BCCI, which has two weeks to finalise arrangements for the Australian series, is exploring various options, an official said.

It could invite fresh bids for this season alone which includes, besides the Australian series, two Tests against South Africa and three Tests and five One-day Internationals against Pakistan.

Otherwise, the BCCI may hire a production house to film the Australian matches and sell the telecast rights to public broadcaster Doordarshan or any other channel.

"It is something which cannot be done in a hurry, but there is no time left," an official said. "We are on it and should be able to find a solution in a day or two.

"What I can promise is that there will not be any blank screens when the matches start."

The BCCI will also have to consider any decision by the Supreme Court if Zee takes legal recourse as it has threatened to do.

Zee's offer of 308 million dollars represented a six-fold increase on the 54 million dollars paid by Doordarshan for the past four years, and dwarfed even the Indian Government's annual sports budget of 44 million dollars.

With cricket taking up three-quarters of sports advertising in India, Zee had expected to rake in revenues upwards of 320 million dollars over the four years.

Zee shares fell 3.5 percent on Tuesday after the BCCI withdrew its offer.

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