Alokananda Chakraborty

TEN Sports to hit airwaves on April 1

TEN Sports, a sports channel promoted by Abdul Rehman Bukhatir, will be launched on April 1 in India

The Abdul Rehman Bukhatir-promoted TEN Sports channel will be launched on April 1 in India. A 24-hour sports channel, Taj Sports will be uplinked from Dubai.

Bukhatir is credited with introducing cricket to Sharjah and the creation of the Cricketers' Benefit Fund in Sharjah. TEN Sports will have the exclusive rights for WWF in India, the Sharjah Cup, Cricket played in Sri Lanka and will also feature European Cup Football and "lots of other exciting sports action", says a TEN Sports spokesperson.

It is learnt that Taj TV Ltd. is also toying with the idea of offering blocks of programming content to other channels. Officials at Taj TV Ltd. were not available to comment on the issue. The project will be headed by ex-ESPN STAR Sports hand Chris McDonald, who will be based in Dubai. The head for the Indian operations is yet to be decided. Peter Hutton, would be vice-president, programming and events, for Taj TV Ltd. Hutton was joint managing director of IMG-TWI for South Asia and head of production for TWI for Asia.

It is also learnt Taj TV Ltd. has been in talks with some leading Indian networks for distribution and to offer the channel as part of a bouquet. Industry sources say Modi Entertainment Network (MEN) has signed a distribution agreement with the TEN Sports channel for the Indian market. MEN already distributes Hallmark, DD Sports and FTV in the Indian market. In all probability, HMA Udyog, a Modi group affiliate, will distribute the channel. Information available with agencyfaqs! seems to indicate that the initial distribution deal between the two is valid for a three-year period. Sources added that there would be an automatic rollover after this. A spokesperson for TEN Sports, however, says no decision has been taken on this yet.

There are some more issues yet to be resolved. Prime among them is the issue of whether the channel would be pay or free-to-air. Sources close to Taj TV Ltd. say the channel will be free-to-air to begin with, but will turn pay once it takes off. "The initial plan was to launch pay; but when they realised penetration might be a problem with a pay channel, Taj TV Ltd. folk settled in favour of free-to-air," says a company insider.

But the key question is: Is there scope for another sports channel? More importantly, with the advertising industry in a standstill, is this the right time to launch a new channel?

Talking about the prospects of TEN Sports, CVL Srinivas, COO, North & South, Madison Media, says, "The way sports channels perform depends on who's got a hot property that month or for a particular period. How viewers will react to TEN Sports will depend on the line-up entirely." Adds Samarkant Kukreja, media director, Maximize India. "With the Sharjah Cricket Cup starting next month, the channel can look forward to a good start. However, the long-term performance is a function of pure economics. At the end of the day, ad revenues depend viewership. If there is good Indian stuff on it, it will have a major Indian following. But the success or failure will depend on the events they are able to line up."

In essence, what will induce viewers to sample the channel will be the scope of India-specific programming. "The question is with DD Sports in command of all domestic cricketing rights, Sony holding the rights for the cricket World Cup and ESPN STAR Sports in charge of the CSI package (till August 2002, post which it will be put up for a fresh bid), what will drive the eyeballs in the crucial launch phase?" asks a Delhi-based media planner.

Talking off-the-record to agencyfaqs!, a top channel official says, "We are not focussing on any one key event. The Sharjah Cup will be our starting point. We are hoping that the Morocco Cup slated for the second week of August would prove to be the channel driver. My experience shows even if India is not participating, a good game of cricket inevitably has a good following." © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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