Cricket broadcast is dead. Long live cricket broadcasters.
Strive to become a monopoly, that’s what every start-up coach will tell you. Monopoly is the best form to be in if you have a substantial market to cater to. Fix the prices, determine the output, and at times dictate consumption. There’s no one to stop you.
But at times, monopolies are bad. They end up making you slack, they end up making you believe you are the best when you are just lucky enough to not have others competing with you. They make you commit the cardinal sin of compromising on quality.
This idea becomes very pertinent in the Indian cricket broadcasting space where Star India is the dominant player much thanks to how the macro-environment for power politics has played out.
Subhas Chandra’s Zee enterprises tried to take on the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with the Indian Cricket League in 2007. You don’t take on the tiger in its den. Out went Zee as potential broadcasters of Indian cricket. So much so that the Indian board has often dictated to foreign cricket boards that the team will be hesitant to fulfill tour commitments if Ten Sports or Ten Cricket is the broadcaster in that particular country.
With Zee gone, the next best alternative was Neo Sports operated by Nimbus Communications — a long standing friend of the BCCI. After a four year long honeymoon with the Indian board, the management and BCCI collided head-on, leading to a protracted legal battle eventually leading to broadcast rights being taken away and given to Star India.
So Star India became the de facto king of the Indian cricket broadcasting business. With Sony holding on to the seasonal Indian Premier League (in which, Star has the online broadcasting rights) and with no chance for Zee or Nimbus to make a comeback, the path was clear for Star to become the monopoly that it so wanted to be.
As a result, 2012 onwards Star Sports got the right to telecast all international and domestic games played in India in addition to the rights it holds of broadcasting ICC events and international games played in Australia and England — a large chunk of the cricketing calendar, all produced by a single entity.
The outcome? Substandard quality.
Choppy footage, frequent advertisement breaks, crass and borderline irritating commentators, in-studio (and not on-ground) commentary during important tours like India’s trip to Australia in 2014/15 and an excessively jingoistic (read: overtly nationalistic) line of expert analysis.
It’s the bit in bold that is the most scarring, because the rest of it is largely inexclusive to Star and would be committed by most other sports broadcasters.
It was during India’s World T20 opener against New Zealand that Sanjay Manjrekar kept insisting to a hesitant VVS Laxman that it’s alright to refer to India as ‘we’ so as to say that Laxman was India’s representative in the panel of experts.
While it’s true that Laxman’s presence there is to give his insight on Indian cricket, but it’s foolish to make him refer to India as his team thereby sidestepping all standards of objectivity and neutrality that one expects from a cricket expert.
Now why is objectivity important?
Purely because it is a global game, with an audience that cuts across demographic and geographic barriers. To have an expert constantly refer to one of the team as his is problematic because then it undermines the quality of his analysis and opinion which will be perceived to be stemming out of a patriot or a fan rather than a neutral observer who is supposed to give the most accurate analysis of cricket situations.
While a lot of people will argue that it’s obvious to expect a former India batsman to root for his team and that fans will be able to see beyond that — the question isn’t about whether a fan can or cannot see beyond that. The question is more on the lines of should the fan be put in such a scenario in the first place?
Bunch of similar sorts of jingoistic and nationalistic hyperbole occurred during Star’s coverage of the marquee clash between India and Pakistan on 19 March.
Amidst the obsession with Star Sports’ Mauka Mauka advertisement campaign, it was amusing to see anchors being caught up in the madness often positioning themselves as cheerleaders and not sports show anchors.
A rather embarrassing moment came up during the post-match show of the Hindi broadcast, where anchor Jatin Sapru (while the Mauka Mauka tune played in the background) scoffed at a bemused Shoaib Akhtar (the said ‘representative’ of Pakistan on the show). What seemed funny to Sapru was borderline condescension where a former international player was made to look like a joke in front of millions of viewers, just because his team had lost a cricket match.
The video of this episode had gone viral before Star intervened and got it removed from YouTube.
This episode is another example of how cricket commentary and broadcast is increasingly becoming us versus them in order to pander to newer, pseudo nationalist audiences rather than creating an environment for them to adapt to a more ideal style of cricket broadcast.
That particular game was ridden with occasions where commentators often crossed the line, and ended up being rebuked by cricketers indirectly.
Speaking of rebuke, the most glaring moment of stupidity occurred during the post-match presentation of the India-Bangladesh game yesterday.
Instead of asking the Indian captain, MS Dhoni about his team’s performance, the presenter, Sanjay Manjrekar quite cheekily asked the captain what he felt about Bangladesh finishers going for glamour shots and not playing smartly.
This improper comment was met by Dhoni with a straight bat. Not only did the captain suggest that cricket is about learning with experience and that the finishers would learn from their mistake, he also added that commentating is a relatively easier task than finishing games in the middle — leading to Manjrekar trying to play the victim card with a wry comment.
These kinds of episodes are on the rise, and are seemingly going to get more apparent as days go by. It’s linked to the idea that a producer that has complete control over the market, has no obligation to maintain a certain amount of quality but rather needs to pander to wrongly placed sentiments.
Cricket broadcast that used to be much adored by the average cricket fan has reached an all-time low. So much so that countless of fans suggest that watching TV on mute is the best option during a game.
The sports channel bosses need to wake up from their slumber and look beyond the numbers. Yes, Star is making tons of profit being the sole producer of cricket content in India but is it satisfying the average fan? Is it allowing newer generations to pick up the game better?
Or is it just dumbing down the content, and creating madness that is mind numbing and eardrum shattering at best?
Cricket broadcasting is dead. Long live cricket broadcasters.