Chennai: Taj Television chief executive officer, Chris McDonald, is again playing his favourite game - launching and managing a successful sports channel in India. After launching ESPN in India in 1995, converting Star Sports into a pay channel in 1998 and increasing subscription rates on the eve of popular sporting events, McDonald is now launching Ten Sports, a new sports channel, in the Indian subcontinent. The free-to-air channel is uplinked from Dubai.
I always face this question about the space for a fourth sports channel in India. We give prominence to cricket; so do ESPN and Star Sports. We also feature WWF events, the most popular event in India after cricket, says he. Now, Ten Sports will inject a bit of glamour and get Indian sporting teams and members more recognition.
An MBA from Wharton Business School, McDonald was a sports commentator on the TVB Pearl Channel, Hong Kong. At ESPN Star Sports he took care of advertising, sales, marketing and strategic planning. He also acted as the managing director of Sports Corporation, ESPN Stars event management subsidiary. He created several new sports properties in Asia, like the Asian X Games and the Asian Bowling Tour. Under him Sports Corporation added around 15 new events, and its bottomline turned black after an interval.
A professional basketball player in the Asian circuit till 1996, McDonald joined Taj Television - part of the UAE-based Bukhatir Investments that has interests in banking, construction, real estate, trading, information technology and cricket - and has plans to promote several events. Cricket fans may me aware that the group promoter, Abdulrahman Bukhatir, had conceived the Sharjah cricket tournament. The group has built a cricket stadium in Morocco where cricket tournaments will be held. Excerpts from an interview with McDonald:
What is your channels reach? In which all countries, or cities, will Ten Sports be available?
The channel will be available through cable networks in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. We launched our channel on 1 April 2002, and it is too early to mention the number of homes the channel reaches in all these countries. In India all cable and satellite homes in major metros will have access to the channel. HMA Udyog is our distributor here. We are talking to major multi-service operators in India for transmission.
What is your channels USP?
Cricket is going to be our USP. We will telecast the Sharjah tournament, where Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are going to compete in the triangular series. We will also telecast cricket triangulars from Morocco. On our programme schedule are Australias tour of Zimbabwe in April-May 2002 and the entire international cricket played in Sri Lanka.
We will also telecast other sporting events like WWF (eight hours a week), the English FA Cup, Manchester United Football, golf, the WTA (the best of womens tennis from all over the world), ATP Dubai Tennis Open, the Ryder Cup, Champions Trophy Hockey and Champions Challenge Hockey.
We have in our archives matches played by the Indian cricket team during the last 10 years and other classic/vintage tennis matches played at Wimbledon. In order to inject some glamour into our programmes we have signed up entertainment and sports personalities like Raageshwari and Sanjay Manjrekar.
You plan to telecast lots of classic matches - cricket, tennis... Will your channel, in the process, get dubbed as a vintage/classic channel?
Our plan is to have vintage programmes, but not to be a vintage channel. Telecasting classic matches is just a small part of our programme.
Your group has built a cricket stadium in Morocco and plans to hold tournaments there. Is it because India is not participating in Sharjah tournaments?
It is true that India is not playing in Sharjah now. But it has nothing to do with our groups decision to build a cricket stadium in Morocco. We want to expand the game of cricket to other countries. In our view Africa has a good potential for cricket growth.
How much investment has gone into this venture?
The company is privately held and there is no need to divulge financial figures. We have built a 55,000-sqft studio in Dubai and that shows our seriousness in this venture.
What will be the share of sports channels in the total television advertisement segment in India?
It is difficult to estimate sports channels share in the total television advertisement, as the ad-spend depends on events. If there is a major cricketing event, then the ad spend will be high. It is possible for sports channels to get an annual revenue of $30-$40 million.
What are Ten Sports advertisement rates?
We have an attractive package. It will be $100-$125 per 30 seconds.
When is your channel expected to go pay?
Very soon. We are considering the matter and it will be done in a couple of months. We will price it very competitively.
Why Ten Sports? Something to do with the number 10
Many sporting personalities like Sachin Tendulkar and Maradona have sported the number 10 on their shirts. Hence the name.