When the process of bidding for TV rights is transparent, it is just a matter of putting up the highest number. But in 2004, what the then BCCI head Jagmohan Dalmiya did wasn’t transparent. I think with IPL, the process was relatively transparent in the first season. In the second bid, nobody knows.
The 2004 telecast rights were opaque because Dalmiya really did not want to give it to Zee. [A battle between Zee and ESPN-Star over four-year television rights went to court and was resolved a year later. Harish Thawani’s Nimbus won the new bid for $612 million.] The process was flawed.
I’ll be surprised if Thawani makes money on his bid. Also, he would have been fine had his relationship with Lalit Modi been okay. Obviously there was a falling out between them. Even his head of production, James Rego, left to work for BCCI. Also, just as you have ‘Before Christ’ and ‘After Christ’, in cricket you have ‘Before IPL’ and ‘After IPL’. If Twenty20 wasn’t involved, I don’t know what these rights would be worth.
If you are ESPN, you say, here are the number of series I have. I assume that my prices for each year are 15 per cent higher than the year before. Then we calculate the ad time. Then we put a rate for ten seconds and calculate how much we would make per series. So the number you get is the plain vanilla number. Then we look at how many cable households and boxes we have. Then we add the numbers and subtract production costs. We calculate which parts of the world we have rights for. Say the number we get is $500 million. So the minimum we’d bid is $550 million. You try and second-guess the other channel. Or you get conservative and take a little loss.
[When it comes to reporting on telecast rights] the press is inaccurate 80 per cent of the time, and the rest are plants. Guys like Lalit Modi have their plants. I don’t think these journalists take money, but they owe favours to these blokes. Let’s leave aside websites like Cricinfo, because they don’t get into these things technically, but newspaper reports are either plants or really off. Ninety per cent of the time, the people willing to talk to them have an agenda. Most ‘sources’ take journalists for a merry ride.
(He worked in production for a major sports channel)
As told to Rahul Bhatia