Sony Entertainment Television puts IPL on sticky wicket

With just over a month to go for its second season, the IPL has lost out on a US$31.16 million deal spread over four years because of a dispute between Sony, its broadcasters and prime sponsor, and Big TV, a direct-to-home (DTH) provider.

Big TV officials have confirmed that they are no longer with IPL and have cited contractual violations as the reason for the pullout. The reason for the dispute is a separate deal that Multi Screen Media Pvt Ltd (MMPL), which holds the IPL contract under the Sony umbrella, has signed with Airtel Digital TV, which is Big TV’s rival.

IPL had signed the DTH deal last August with Big TV, which is owned by the Reliance Anil Dhirubai Ambani Group, primarily for on-ground advertising and visibility at match venues. But earlier this year, Sony, which bought the IPL’s telecast rights along with World Sport Group for US$ 1.02 billion, struck an on-air advertising deal on its own with Airtel – only Airtel’s ads will be shown, in the DTH category, during IPL telecasts.

The IPL has now asked MMPL to clarify its position and the dispute has given rise to speculation that the IPL is reviewing its relations with Sony. In fact, matters took a curious twist today with reports emerging that Kunal Dasgupta, the chief executive of MMPL, had put in his papers.

However, Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, was quick to clarify that Dasgupta’s departure has nothing to do with the aborted Big TV deal. “He was the first person to have believed in what we were doing and it is very sad for me to see him go,” Modi told Cricinfo. “He will be surely missed.” Sundar Raman, the IPL CEO, said the league is working for an early resolution to the dispute. “Sony are our broadcasters and another ground partner has raised a valid issue, for which we have asked for a clarification,” Raman said.

Rohit Gupta, president, network sales, MMPL, dismissed suggestions that the ongoing dispute would affect Sony’s long-term deal with IPL. “We are discussing the issue with the BCCI and we are confident it will be resolved,” Gupta said.

However, Big TV officials are clear that they will revive their IPL deal only if all the original conditions are met. “According to our IPL deal, we had the first right of refusal for an on-air advertising deal,” Sanjay Behl, group head, brand and marketing, Reliance Communication, said. “Sony did come to us with their on-air offer but awarded the contract to a rival before we could respond. We have pulled out of the IPL and will look at reviving the arrangement only if the original terms and conditions are adhered to.”

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