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ESPN’s spat with Hathway: Who will blink first on Dhaka Test’s Day 1?

10-December-2004
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ESPN’s spat with Hathway: Who will blink first on Dhaka Test’s Day 1?

The first Test match against Bangladesh begins at Dhaka today. The first high point of interest among the millions of cricket fans and experts: Will Sachin Tendulkar match Sunil Gavaskar’s record of scoring the most number of Test centuries in this Test? Teldulkar, with 33 Test centuries in 118 tests, has never scored a century against Bangladesh.

The second high point of interest: Will Anil Kumble also overtake Kapil Dev’s record of 434 Test wickets to become India’s highest Test wicket taker?

Said a press release from ESPN on the eve of the Test: “The pulsating action from Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka, will be shown LIVE & Exclusive only on ESPN.”

What an irony, especially for cricket fans living in South Delhi! The reason: ESPN and Star Sports cut off their feed to the Hathway cable network from Friday last on the ground of non-payment of routine monthly subscription fees due to ESPN Software Pvt. Ltd. Most C&S homes in South Delhi get their feed through the Hathway network.

Hathway has strongly denied the ESPN accusation. In a statement to the press, Hathway has said that the accusation is “malafide, baseless and false”. Said Haresh Gehaney, of Hathway’s Corporate Communications, to exchange4media, “There is a mention of outstanding amount. Please note that ESPN has been billing us erroneously even in cities where we have not availed their services. Moreover, Hathway strictly follows the normal credit norms prevalent in the industry.” He further said that “in the last several years, no broadcaster has shut off signals to Hathway in such an arbitrary manner as ESPN”.

ESPN however is standing by its charges. When exchange4media contacted him, Sricharan Iyengar, Vice-President, Sales and Marketing, ESPN Software India, said, “They can keep giving reasons and disputing the truth but the fact is that they agreed to pay a certain amount which has not been paid.”

Upping the ante, Iyengar added, “We are looking at options like other MSOs and other last-mile operators.”

While the spat, in which both sides are claiming to be in the right, continues, it is the cricket fan who has been left in the lurch. People in the broadcasting field feel that as long as there is a lack of legislation and a monitoring mechanism, these issues will keep arising. According to an industry insider who did not want to be quoted, advertising on sports channels like ESPN and Star Sports pick up only during top sporting events, especially cricket matches. “A cricket series is the time when they can put pressure on cable distributors to report their subscriber numbers more accurately.”

According to him, while the spat is not unusual, “it is now a question of who will blink first”. After all, cricket fans won’t give up without a strong protest, and it is Hathway and the neighborhood cable operators who will have to face the ire of subscribers.

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