Can we have a break after every ball?

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D. Murali

AS if to set a cat among pigeons, or lob a bouncer at tailenders, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has started talking seriously about a channel of its own. And people have started flicking their remotes wildly, clueless as usual. So, some help.

What's the score?If you're asking for numbers, here they are: A 24-hour channel that can be launched by September, a Rs 40-crore investment that can generate Rs 16,000 crore in five years by beaming 29 Test matches and 43 ODIs. By selling telecast rights, the Board can get only a fifth (or is it a twelfth?) of that `potential' amount, says a recent feasibility study done by the cricket associations of Punjab and Rajasthan.

Have they thought of a name?Much like it happens before a baby is born, suggestions are pouring in from fervent fans. Call it `Ballaa Gaind,' screams one, translating bat and ball; and another is dancing with a placard that reads, `Balle Balle,' confident that the naming `ho jayegi' the way he wants. The batsmen lobby wants to name the new channel after their specialisation, `Ballebaaj,' but scorers are asking for `Chakka' meaning sixer. Not to be left behind, bowlers suggest `Hat trick,' which the Board thinks may give away the trick, after all.

Will they make a serial of the game?Since the soap-hungry population wishes to watch everything in episodic format, the cricket body may think of doling out 30-minute chunks of the game, live on prime time, over after over, like a mega serial that may never be over. If the director is given a free run, he could become more important than the match referee, wrapping up each episode with a suspense such as waiting for the third umpire's decision, or the hero hitting the ball high!

I'm worried about the confusion between game and commercial!A legitimate worry, because you'll have the same players in both. It seems the Board is also studying the feasibility of shooting product commercials for different companies to avoid such a mix-up and earn more, in the process. However, to squeeze in more ad spots, there'll be a break after each ball.

Can they make the game total entertainment?Yes, they can. They've already formed crack teams for the purpose. For instance, a movie called `Baarahwaan Khilaadee' is on the drawing board and the storyline revolves around the extracurricular activities of the 12th man. Another idea is `Seedy Prasaaran,' which is billed as being `different' from `Seedhaa' or live, because it will tailor the progress of the game on the basis of SMS poll results. A folk group is working on `alternative' bats, such as books and swords, briefcases and laptops.

Aren't our cricketers protesting?No, even if they do, it's only in the greenroom, where again cameras are in place for the `Hara pheri' programme. So, they're slowly realising that `cricket is BCCI property,' and it makes financial sense to dance to the tune, literally. Since the Board thinks that players too are its property, great efforts are on for increasing the return per square inch of ad space available on the apparel they wear.

More the merrier, isn't it?That's Bindra's argument "If we can have 100 days of cricket now why can't we have cricket for 365 and a quarter days a year." If you can watch a few hours of game a week, why not 24x7? But there are dangers, such as whether the whole experiment can turn cricket lovers into maniacs, lead a laid-back sport deeper into the lair of commercialism, ultimately killing the golden goose in sheer greed.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 16, 2005)
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