Return of the Mambo

It hasn’t yet been formally confirmed, but assuming all goes as expected, Channel 4 will be showing the India – England Test series. There are some interesting things about this development, beyond the pleasant surprise of the Test game returning to terrestrial television for the first time since 2005.

Strikingly, BT Sport and Sky failed to show much interest, while the mooted plan for primary rights holder Star Sports to distribute it via the Disney+ platform appears to have come to nothing. Amazon don’t seem to have tried terribly hard to get the rights either, and Channel 4 have bought them for a price below what might have been expected.

Certainly the time difference is less than prime time in the UK with starts around 4am, but there is a day/night Test in the schedule, while at weekends in particular at least half the day’s play is at a relatively civilised time.

What is of significant interest is the lack of intent by those channels who have in the last decade been the sole outlets for almost all cricket in this country. Given the relatively low cost, should it be a concern to the ECB that appetite is so thin? Perhaps. It also does emphasise that the oft-repeated line that terrestrial broadcasters are inherently uninterested in the Test format is untrue – and it will be a harder case for them to make in future.

This doesn’t mean that the ECB will see the light – their addiction to money ahead of all other considerations is unlikely to wane, because it would mean difficult decisions about priorities. What would be embarrassing for them would be for the Channel 4 audience to exceed that of Sky – for it would provide ammunition against the ECB who appear to revel in the concept that the public don’t care about the game and won’t watch it on free to air television.

The ECB might have no say at all about who shows this series, but the fall out from it could prove interesting to say the least. If broadcasters’ desire to show cricket has lessened, so will the amount of money they’re prepared to pay. Hiding the game away on satellite pay channels has come with immense costs to the wider game, but been supported by the governing body on the grounds that there is no alternative. Their expectation appears to have been that rights values were only going to go in one direction – upwards. It is distinctly possible that this upcoming series is a first indication that may not be so. If that were to be true, and we have little firm idea what is in the minds of the pay TV channels, it may yet be the ECB have backed the wrong horse even by their own standards of success.

For now, let’s just enjoy the return of the best form of the game to a place where all can access it. But this may well not be the end of the matter for the game in this country.

15 thoughts on “Return of the Mambo

  1. Mark Feb 3, 2021 / 12:28 pm

    The ECB should be worried that in the middle of a lockdown, where many people are confined to their homes, the “ partner” broadcaster doesn’t seem that interested in a series against a nation with over a billion people. On the other hand, is the governing body really interested in Test cricket anymore either? Last year was supposed to be the roll out of the Shinny new invention of the 16.4. The pandemic spared us that folly.

    It’s been well over a year since I cancelled Sky and BT and I have to say I have not missed it much, The pandemic has lessened my interest in most sport to be honest. I haven’t bothered with Match of the day either. Ludicrous preening football managers, and multi millionaire players playing to empty stadiums seems completely absurd in the current climate of a pandemic. Are they really essential workers? I guess they give some entertainment to those locked up at home. But the endless letters from Sky asking me to return at a super discount rate hasn’t tempted me. The longer it goes the less likely I will be back I think.

    No doubt things will return to normal at some stage, but I wonder if we have reached a tipping point in sports rights and coverage. For many decades it was a one way bet, The prices and subscriptions kept going up. Not any more. It may be a temporary lull or maybe it all just got too expensive.

    Its interesting that Murdoch sold up Sky and the tv subscription business when he did. Perhaps he felt the new players like Amazon, and the tech companies meant the competition was going to get too much. On the other hand, he has made some pretty shrewd investment decisions over the decades, so maybe he called the the top of the market?

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    • Marees Feb 3, 2021 / 3:45 pm

      This is probably a clash between Sky & Disney/ESPNstar

      Star/wants to promote their digital platform but BCCI mandatorily requires linear TV also

      SKY has their own digital platform, so they are not interested in TV alone if STAR will be streaming online

      Channel 4 doesn’t have a problem with TV only deal

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        • Marees Feb 3, 2021 / 4:18 pm

          Is there any confirmation that Channel 4 will also be streaming this?

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          • thelegglance Feb 3, 2021 / 5:10 pm

            All 4 is Channel 4 though. Disney aren’t showing it at all. Have I misunderstood you?

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          • dannycricket Feb 3, 2021 / 5:55 pm

            Hotstar aren’t showing it in the UK, which surprised me. Considering Channel 4 got it cheap, I’m surprised they got exclusive streaming rights.

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          • Marees Feb 3, 2021 / 6:37 pm

            I agree with Danny.

            Disney most likely to stream Cricket in UK

            Atleast in India, IPL was their ticket to develop a large audience.

            Very likely they will do this in UK too.

            Giving TV rights to free to air helps them draw in more audience to the sport & hence more growth potential for their cricket streaming services

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          • dannycricket Feb 3, 2021 / 6:50 pm

            Hotstar aren’t showing it at all in the UK, as it turns out. I’m surprised, but here we are:

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    • thelegglance Feb 3, 2021 / 4:03 pm

      Sky had already made a strategic error by going into the home broadband market – it was very much BT’s domain. That’s why they retaliated with BT Sport, and BT are a much bigger company than Sky.

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      • Mark Feb 3, 2021 / 8:40 pm

        But isn’t Sky now owned by Comcast? They are a pretty big American company. Don’t know if they are as big as BT.

        Also I think Disney has made some cutbacks at ESPN with a number of job loses last year in the US. A year of not being able to make many films and cinemas shut down there is a lot of cost cutting across the industry.

        Also when this pandemic comes to an end people will want to get out and about. They have been stuck at home watching tv enough already.

        I think the whole subscription model tied in for 18 months is just outdated now. People increasingly want to watch events as they choose. There are too many platforms and you don’t want to be subscribing to lots of them. Netflix has allowed people to pay by the month and end the contract as when the want. Now TV, which is Sky is following the same course with monthly , weekly or even daily passes. It could be a big problem down the line for many sports administrators. Time will tell.

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        • thelegglance Feb 3, 2021 / 8:56 pm

          They are indeed – but the whole BT arrival predated that, and it’s why I find it interesting. Whether Comcast will be as keen to splash the cash is such an interesting question. And you’re right about the contract thing, and Prime have been dipping their toes in that whole “event” based sports offerings too, though they do have the ATP Tour.

          It’s striking how much Sky have lost – of rugby and football, and this year with no crowds and every game televised it’s probably exacerbated that impression. But I don’t think cricket is core to them. Football obviously is. But it does seem to me very, very odd and concerning for the ECB that Sky weren’t interested in this tour – it’s not even on cost grounds.

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          • Marees Feb 4, 2021 / 7:47 am

            If football is the main interest to SKY, then it makes sense that they may not be interested in on-demand pricing model for cricket.

            In their current model of long term contracts where cricket is bundled with football, it looks like footie viewers are subsidizing cricket viewers

            In an unbundled streaming model, there is no one to subsidize cricket viewers, so ECB might have to settle for a smaller contract !?

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          • dannycricket Feb 4, 2021 / 8:34 am

            It bears saying that the current £220m TV deal is probably for more than Sky gets purely from Sky Sports subscriptions. They would need to get 540,000 extra subscribers from cricket just to match that, without considering extra expenses such as production or marketing.

            Of course they make more money in other ways, such as also selling broadband, mobile, and extra TV packages to the new customers, but it also prevented BT from broadening their sports offering. If both Sky and BT are tightening their belts, as their refusal to meet Star’s valuation suggests, the next ECB TV deal might be for a lot less money (although still more than the deals from 2006-2019).

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          • Mark Feb 4, 2021 / 11:09 am

            I think football fans have been subsidising cricket and a number of other sports for many years to be honest. I doubt Comcast has any loyalty to cricket, and may not be interested in the future. Murdoch was Australian and had spent a lot of time in the UK. There was a connection with the old country. No such case with Comcast. Cricket will have to stack up purely on the numbers alone.

            The 2 big England Test series are Australia for historic reasons, and India for financial reasons. The fact that the major cricket broadcaster is not interested in this series is alarming for the ECB. Although they will claim it has nothing to do with them as it’s an overseas tour, and Sky are happy with home series.

            I’m sure the way to go in the future is pay as you go platforms, with cheaper prices. A couple of pounds per match or something. Like a film. Exclusivity with long tied in contracts may not be the way forward. It might also encourage sports governing bodies to think more about growing the number of eyeballs watching their product rather than the biggest up front pay off. Champions league football viewing figures have not be great since they went behind a paywall.

            It will be interesting to see what kind of viewing figures Channel 4 get. I will certainly be dipping in and having a watch. Which I wouldn’t be doing if it was on Sky.

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