On Thursday, Sachin Tendulkar scored his 40th ODI century. A number of people across the country, including in his hometown Mumbai, missed his comeback hundred because Zee Sports, the channel that the BCCI has sold Indian cricket's overseas rights to for an unprecedented $219 million (for 25 games over a five-year period), was unavailable in many cable-viewing homes.
Newspaper offices here were flooded with requests for the India-West Indies score because they were unable to watch Zee Sports. The problem is two-fold, one because it is a pay channel (as against free-to-air) and two, because of a fight between Zee and some cable TV operators over the subscription rates. While no exact figures will be available till the TRP ratings are out, Zee Sports' Vice-President (Marketing) Gaurav Seth, told HT that the problem was basically in Mumbai, not so much in Delhi. "We have very high connectivity in Delhi, over 90 per cent," he said. "There is an issue in Mumbai though, because of a corporate tussle with In-Cable, who control most of the cable TV network there. They have refused to show Zee Sports."
The issue, according to Seth, was taken to court (the TDSAT) by In-Cable, who refused to pay the subscription rates Zee asked for. "We asked to negotiate but they were unwilling despite us agreeing to offer lower rates, the same as for our other channels."
On Friday morning, the court directed Zee Sports and In-Cable to settle their differences by Monday, if not, the court will issue a directive as to how much the going rate for the channel should be. In the meantime though, on Saturday, many viewers could well miss India playing Australia.
The fault though, is not Zee Sports'. They have bought the rights and as a private enterprise, can sell anything at rates they feel will help them recover the money they have invested. It is more the BCCI's problem. The Board is responsible to the people. No one from the Board was available for comment. BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah is in Malaysia and vice-president and marketing committee head Lalit Modi's Mumbai office said he was in London and unavailable.
The moot point here is --- was the Board correct in selling rights to India games to a private player that is not accessible (for various reasons) to large parts of the country? According to Seth, their agreement with the BCCI ensures that the offshore matches will all be high-profile ones.