Why Zee won't stand for ZenithNow even the telecast of the Ind-Aus Test series is in serious doubt. All thanks to this never-ending wrangle over the rights to telecast all Indian matches for the next four years. As usual, the BCCI & its never ending love for more Taakaas land us, the viewers, in danger of losing out.
Like some good historian, I lay the blame squarely in the past. The BCCI is directly to blame for this situation, though it may seem to be acting very holy now. They kept squeezing the goose, not to kill it, but to make it lay more than one golden egg at a time. And fast. So came all these bears demanding a lick of the honey (Yeah, the allegory sucks). I don't even know how much money the BCCI is demanding. Just consider the fact that Ten Sports reportedly sold each 10 seconds of Indo-Pak cricket at Rs. 300K. The action may, by some stretch, be worth that much, but most of the ads weren't. If I were a client, I'd force my ad agencies to come up with something much better. Frankly, I wonder if 30K/sec was worth the actual sales of those products. But we can't help it. Indian cricket on television is being courted like never before and the BCCI stands at the gates of the swayamvara. The BCCI doesn't seem to care who the suitors are. Zee and the businessmen running it don't want to see the prospect of easy money go away unfought.
Those who have seen ESS's recent readiness to "appeal" to the masses will wonder what differentiates all these channels now. I agree that potentially all of these could end up serving the same dish, but I think the inbuilt maryaada will lie in their backgrounds. All said and done, ESS come from a sportscasting tradition. Their marketing men, their producers, their staff is geared to show sport. SET & Zee think in terms of "entertainment". Their primary instincts are rooted in Bollywood, and in film-based TV. To salvage a situation, they will veer towards the arclights (incidentally, bollywood is inclined to get cricketers to do the same for it!). SET-Max did exactly that. The biggest impact is that in doing so, they've forced ESS to follow suit, if not to the same extent. Zee have claimed that Ten Sports will produce their telecast. However, will the Zee channel be a sports channel or a Max-like "entertainment" one? Whatever be the claims, Zee wouldn't know what to do with that channel in non-cricketing hours, so following a Max model will make sense for them. I'm sorry to do this, but I must quote Ms. Mandira Bedi on this, whom I recently saw saying this: "Cricket drives India. Wait, actually cricket and films drive India". It is the sign of times that even someone who has been a proven failure at her first job, and not much better at her second is able to dish out "truths" like these. Is it really a fact that mixing cricket & films creates the Philosopher's Stone? It has been hammered into our heads continuously - whether it really is a fact, no one can prove. However, I have yet to meet anyone who tunes in to watch the cricket only because of "Extraa Innings".
Many viewers have criticised these "extraa toppings", so I won't bother doing that. However, witness what this kind of content and competitors coming from non-sporting fields have done - they have thrust upon us a crew of incompetent commentators.
Not all commentators are freelancers, and so usually 'belong" to a channel's production. Which means that most channels have to find droves of ex-cricketers (usually Indian) to do the job. In turn, these ex-cs have no powers of articulation, no fresh insights and even worse, are even heavily partisan at times. It really tells you that even if you've played at the highest level, you need not have the mental faculties to present or ponder over it. The Australians are no doubt the best in this business as well, especially after the emergence of Healy & Taylor (some of them may no be as good, but the difference in quality is evident). From among the rest, we have only a few good commentators, be it presenters or experts. The wide panel of SET-Max is one you hardly feel inclined to listen to. Even worse, is that on the few occasions that there is any analysis on, the Bedi-Sharma comedy duo perched in the middle cut them off bluntly. It was a little painful to watch Arun Lal & Mark Nicholas protest, albeit mildly, saying that (in response to one such attempt), "Wait, let us finish this point, before you go off to whatever you have got". If Zee has to get more anchors & commentators, it's only likely to get even worse.
I'm not convinced that Harsha Bhogle is the only Indian who can speak with a feel for cricket. I have no clue, but would someone like Rohit Brijnath be good at this? Perhaps an SOS to him. I'm sure hardly anyone at Zee or SET-Max would think of good cricket writers donning this role. (OK, people like Ayaz Memon have signed up, but they've merely joined the bandwagon, so expect less criticisms of these things from them). Their instinct would be to get some glamourous figures. This is not to say that only men can do this job - some of the sports correspondents with ESS & NDTV are pretty decent, and easily more knowledgable than Ms. Bedi. If it's a criterion, they are good looking too. The problem is that we can even overlook the prologue & epilogue of the match telecast (missing the toss & the post-match interviews is fine) to avoid the mindless chatter. But when you have to listen to Srikkanth blabber away all the time, it is too much. I would've given it to ESS just on the basis of having dropped Sidhu.
(BTW, worst Indian pair: Atul Wassan & Srikkanth. Has you reaching for the noose and Fevicol. And, while on the subject, the best Indian commentator is still playing. I'll await the day when Rahul Dravid hangs up his boots and picks up a mike.)
Whatever the Shazzes & Wazzes & hospital nurses, ESS will probably not go the way of their competitors. But don't the other channels ever fear saturation? How long can you get jobless film stars & unheard-of TV wannabes to profess their undying love for the "Men in Blue"? This to a nation of so-called "cricket jaa.nkaars" of which 80% still don't know what the LBW rule is, even after 20 years of live telecasts.
What is the way out? ESS seem to think that having a more flashy Hindi channel might help. Atleast they're of that inclination. The BCCI apparently runs cricket as custodians on our behalf, but they prefer too count their cash and not worry about intangibles such as high-quality broadcasting. It just struck me that most recent improvements that the BCCI touts emanate from being able to sell the team better. Foreign coach, psychologist, best medical advice. All so that they can get the goose back to laying eggs. People think it should rest a while, but that doesn't seem to strike the BCCI as a good idea.
I've also realised the source of all this frustration. From all corners, the media are telling people like me that we no longer matter. We aren't part of the lower reaches of the common denominators, so we cease to influence. I have to put up with it, I have no alternatives. The day someone brings a blogger-like revolution to broadcasting, making it cheap (and somewhat unreliable, yes), maybe I can pick. But today I have to stand in the corner and follow someone's else's idea of fun.
End Note: Saw Mr. Dalmia on "Walk The Talk" saying that he was voted in "patron-in-chief" by the BCCI to continue negotiations in complex financial settlements. Did he have to be "P-in-C" to do that, one wonders? A friend had remarked to me that the next step for him would be to be nominated "patron saint" of the BCCI.