The IPL (Indian Premier League) is stirring a controversy of sorts, even before the advent of its second season. The issue in spotlight is the alleged discriminatory tactics meted out to Reliance's DTH service provider, Big TV, by the official broadcaster of the IPL, SET Max, in terms of on-air sponsorship. Big TV was also the on-ground sponsor for IPL.
In the first season, Sony had struck category-exclusive deals with advertisers, which meant that one advertiser from each category enjoyed exclusive on-air promotions on the channel during the tournament. This time, however, the channel decided to cash in on the huge success of IPL's last season and opened the doors to all advertisers, without exclusivity.
Sony is allowed to change its on-air plans, it has to seek the first right of refusal from Big TV - the on-ground sponsor - before signing a rival advertiser.
Big TV, a senior media planner says, hadn't booked spots on Max. Meanwhile, Sony inked a deal with Airtel DTH as per its renewed non-exclusive clause, which irked rival Big TV, because Sony had not consulted the latter. Big TV, therefore, pulled out of the on-air as well as the on-ground sponsorship. This means that the Rs 137 crore deal with BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) has fallen through.
For the second season of IPL, Sony had priced the ad rates much higher than last time, up to Rs 4 lakh per 10 seconds, only to eventually slash them by more than 50 per cent. Big TV's bone of contention is that Sony offered Airtel DTH one-fourth the price quoted to Big TV for the on-air sponsorship deal.
Big TV wrote to BCCI, stating that it hasn't been given the first right of refusal as entailed in the contract. BCCI has sought clarification on this from Sony. "We are going through the proper process and are waiting for them to give us a detailed clarification of the development. Things will be clearer then," says Sundar Raman, CEO, IPL.
When asked about the status of the deal with Airtel, Rohit Gupta, president, network sales, licensing and telephony, Sony Entertainment Network, declined to comment, implying a possible revision of contract. "All the three parties are discussing it. We will sort it out in a few days," he says. Gupta maintains that Big TV's exclusive deal was with BCCI and that SET Max was entitled to revisit its on-air plans.
When asked if Big TV had withdrawn its on-ground sponsorship and whether BCCI was looking for a new sponsor, Raman said, "The tournament is not yet started. We have a deal with Big TV, which won't change. We are certain that we will arrive at a logical conclusion."