Listen carefully to the whispers of protest against the absence of the live telecast of Indian women’s cricket team’s one-day internationals in South Africa. And you will discover angst and disappointment, anger and frustration. All of it genuine. But you will also discover that the voices do not belong to either the playing community or those administering Indian cricket.
There is a positive fall-out of the emotions surfacing on social media. Or so it seems. For, this could well be the coming of age of the Indian TV viewer. The fairly vocal protests show that the Indian consumers are finally getting to a stage where they tell broadcasters what they prefer to watch on their television sets.
Then again, the converse could be true. What we are hearing about the non-telecast of the women’s one-day internationals from South Africa could well be a one-off instance. For, there have been many instances of Indian sportspersons’ achievements going unnoticed because of the absence of broadcast.
Many hockey tournaments come to mind as do shooting World Cups and Asian and world events across Olympic sports. Why, the fact that the 2018 Winter Olympics are on and we are unsure how to watch world class athletes perform in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As consumers of televised sport, Indians have rarely reached out to the remote control to switch channels.
For more than 25 years, cable and satellite broadcasters have served Indians what they believe will draw audiences. They have encouraged newer formats and, why, some have even bought stake in events so that they are not displaced as broadcast partners in some crazy bidding war. For a quarter century, Indian viewers have been hooked to such glitz and glamour as dished out to them.
Yet, if we really care for sport at large, we will not only turn up at sporting events in large numbers but also demand the scheduling of fixtures at regular intervals. That we did not hear as much when the Board had not lined up a game for the women’s team since the ICC Women’s World Cup final in July last tells us a lot about our how we miss woods for the trees.
India did not host a single women’s cricket international in all of 2017. Worse, the Indian women’s team last played a Test match in November 2013. Four years and counting! Do I hear you say that this is the era of the T20s? If that is true, how has the Indian women’s team not played any T20 match since 4 December, 2016? We did not hear more than a gentle whisper about this.
The general lack of awareness that the broadcast rights of a bilateral series are sold by the host board – and in this case Cricket South Africa – comes through. The Board of Control for Cricket in India could have, at best, made a suggestion to CSA that its broadcast partner ensures the availability of a feed to an Indian channel.
Sony Pictures Network, which bought the rights to telecast the series in India, would depend on host broadcaster SuperSport to produce the feed. There would be sound commercial reasons for a rights owner to decide against production of a live feed, not the least being the availability of sponsors, whose decision-making is influenced by viewership.
It is a good wager that few will believe that bilateral women’s cricket series will draw large television audiences on their own. In an ideal world, such matches will have a large viewership but the truth is that is not quite the ideal world. And few can really blame a broadcaster for being in the business of airing events that draw greater traction than others.
Perhaps women’s cricket needs a marketing push that will ensure bilateral series are tracked with greater passion than is being at the moment. Whether it is a World Cup win or a league that brings women’s cricket home, it has to find that quality which will make broadcasters queue up for rights to beam it on multiple platforms.
Until that happens, we may end up being offered the opportunity to watch women’s cricket matches primarily when ICC events are held or when they are part of some double headers. The murmur of discontent being hear now is a good sign but sporadic voices are only a good starting point and not really a call to action for the broadcasters.
The push must come from the women cricket team itself – for starters, it can demand more engagements that will keep its players in public eye – and those who are driving it. Did we hear a word about the absence of a telecast from former India captains, especially Diana Edulji who is a member of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators?
That, to my mind, is the crux of the problem.