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Digital rights pivotal to future of Big Bash League broadcasts, predicts Ten executive

The future success of cricket’s Big Bash League on TV could hinge on how Cricket Australia handles the digital rights, predicts Network Ten sports boss Dave Barham, with the broadcaster saying there is little room left on the terrestrial broadcast to improve the show.

KFC-Big-Bash-2015-Schedule-T20-Fixtures-KFC-BBL-TimetableAfter nurturing the sport for three years, the BBL exploded last summer becoming a ratings blockbuster for Ten as the fast pace and entertainment angle of the sport grabbed the attention of a new generation of viewers.

The sport delivered Ten its biggest summer audience since 2004-2005 and the network has locked in its commentary team, adding new faces in Darren Lehmann, Andrew Symonds and Brendon McCullum, while Roz Kelly has been hired to anchor the coverage.

Ten has also extended the contracts of Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Fleming and Mark Waugh, with Barham saying the chemistry of the commentators has been crucial to the sport’s success.

But as Ten prepares to re-enter negotiations for the next rights deal after the 2017-2018 season, Barham said the sport was so fast and the shows so full, that it was a challenge to increase the content on the shows, bringing the issue of digital rights to the forefront.

BBL still only at 20% of its potential says Barham

Barham: BBL still only at 20% of its potential

Barham said it was early to be thinking about rights negotiations but digital needed to be considered. The rise in audiences last year and sponsors’ interest is expected to see the sport get a hefty lift in rights fees and Ten is expanding its main channel coverage to 10 games this year.

He said the next innovation had to be digital.

“It’s really getting really hard to put any more from my point of view into an on-screen picture,” Barham told Mumbrella.

“You can split the screen, you can put in boxes, but in the end I think that just annoys people. We don’t have digital rights but I think your second screen experiences are where you can really start adding to things. If we go forward  and hopefully we get the deal for rights there is massive scope for us to be able to interact the TV with on your iPad and phone.

“Digital needs to be part of the next rights negotiations from my point of view.

“We have done very well without them. Would I like to have them? Absolutely. But there is also the money equation – what’s it worth, how much revenue to write.”

Asked how Cricket Australia should approach the issue of digital rights, Barham was unequivocal: “Just give it to us”.

He said that the upcoming season would again improve on what Ten offered last season, with particularly high hopes held for Andrew Symonds joining the commentary team.

“The stories I hear and the funny stories the guys are telling me now about Andrew Symonds and what a character he is, if we can get that out on TV I think he will add a whole new dimension to this as well.”

Another element of the broadcast Ten will build on this year will be the Backyard Legends, which invites viewers to send in clips of their backyard cricket games.

“We didn’t have a prize and we thought we’ll see what happens and we might get a hundred entries – we had 6,000 entries,” Barham said.

“We think that has got real potential to go even further to the point where I was speaking with Star TV in India a couple of days ago and they love it. They want to see if we can introduce some international ones. So we might try to bring in some international Backyard Legends.

“We’ll also have a really good prize this year.”

Backyard cricket on Australia DayHe said that one of the biggest challenges he now faced was getting new innovations into the game because there was simply no time left in the broadcasts to fit them in – hence his comments about the potential for digital to extend the broadcast platform.

“In a game of test cricket you have 40 seconds between a delivery – you can do this, you can do that – whereas in a game of BBL they shift the field, they run in; sometimes a spinner will bowl an over in a minute-and-a-half.

From an advertising and content perspective Barham said the network was continuing to evolve the product.

“There is at least seven or eight strong integration pieces in the cricket every year and we try to create things that will work with sponsors so we don’t just create a graphic with a logo, we try to create something that has some genuine meaning,” he said.

“All our sponsors have all been back every year.”

The expanded coverage of the Women’s Big Bash League is another key to the summer he believes will expand the audience and give advertisers a fresh platform.

Across the board, Barham believes he has barely scratched the surface of the potential of the sport, from the atmosphere created by fans at the game to the potential to dive deep on statistics and analysis that might finally bring hard-core traditionalists on board.

“I really want to get out there how much is in this game, we might have captured 20% of actually what tactically goes on in these games and that is at the forefront of my brain because I’m trying find the space to do it.

“With Ricky Ponting I have one of the best tactical brains in the country sitting in my commentary box with so much information to give and I can’t get it out.

“That’s the one thing that’s glaring – if we really want it to really take off we have got to engage the real cricket aficionados and when they do see how clever the captains are and what’s going on I think we will get a whole new audience.”

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