Bombay High Court has asked only Zee Telefilms and ESPN-STAR Sports to submit fresh bids for the four-year telecast rights to cricket matches in India. But legal and media experts point out that if there’s a rebidding process, other broadcasters should also be allowed to participate.
Besides Zee and ESPN-STAR Sports, the other bidders originally in the fray for these rights were Prasar Bharati, Sony Entertainment Television and Ten Sports.
Meanwhile, industry sources pointed out that Zee, which was the highest bidder for the rights, may not consider the rebid option. When contacted, the Zee spokesperson said that no decision had been taken as yet. “Everything depends on the board meeting on Monday,” he added.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had earlier granted in-principle rights to Zee. ESPN-STAR Sports had then challenged the BCCI decision in court, resulting in the current rebid imbroglio.
Irrespective of Zee’s decision, experts are screaming “violation” of bidding norms. According to media lawyer Tamali Sengupta, “the entire bidding process is flawed”. It’s more of a negotiation than bidding, she pointed out. And, now that the rebid option has been thrown open, all five players should be allowed to bid, not just Zee and ESPN alone, she indicated. “There are standard norms for international competitive bids,” she said. And according to that, everyone must be asked to bid again.
Another source in the legal fraternity said that in case there is re-bidding, the tenders will be submitted to the court; in effect the court will step into the shoes of BCCI. This is not a practical solution.
Media strategist Anita Nayyar, executive director of Starcom, also questioned the entire exercise of rebidding. “It’s more like gambling,” she said. Bidding is a competitive process, and there’s no room for negotiations, according to Ms Nayyar.
BCCI officials refused to comment on the issue of bidding, but confirmed that the rebidding option is meant only for Zee and ESPN-STAR Sports.
Even as experts pointed out that rebidding should be for all five, sources ruled out Sony, Ten and Prasar Bharati going for it anyway because of the steep acquisition cost. If there’s rebidding, it will open with a floor price of $308 million (over Rs 1,400 crore). Since Sony, Ten and Prasar Bharati had bid much lower, they are not likely to revise the bid price to such an extent, sources said. In the initial round of bidding, Zee offered Rs 1,200 crore, ESPN Rs 1,000 crore, Prasar Bharati Rs 700 crore, Sony Rs 600 crore and Ten Sports less than Rs 500 crore.
Prasar Bharati CEO K S Sarma told FE that he would not go for rebidding with a floor price of $308 million, even if there’s an option. A source in Sony also said that the steep price is not viable for the channel. A Ten Sports official said that the court ruling doesn’t allow it to participate.
An industry source pointed out that in case Zee does finally win the four-year BCCI rights, that would work as a driver for their nascent direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting platform. And STAR (along with the Tatas) is all set to launch DTH.