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04 Dec

Fox Sports considers plan to simulcast Channel Nine’s international cricket coverage

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Fox Sports is shaping as a major player in the next round of cricket broadcast rights.Fox Sports is shaping up as a major player in the next round of cricket broadcast rights, indicating it would be prepared to simulcast matches in conjunction with Channel Nine or even have its own commentary team.

Fox realises it needs a major summer sport to retain subscribers, and cricket remains the key sport, despite the pay television network investing heavily in the A-League.

It is set to aggressively bid for domestic international rights and also for a slice of the Big Bash League, which it broadcast fully before Channel Ten won the rights in 2013.

Nine is also set to bid for the BBL, which has been a ratings success for Ten despite the network’s financial troubles. Ten will be desperate to retain the BBL rights, which some analysts say could treble in value from $20 million annually, for the competition also allows it to promote its new season shows.

Unlike international cricket played at home, the BBL is not on the anti-siphoning list, meaning Fox could exclusively broadcast matches.

Broadcasters are tipping Cricket Australia will seek about $200 million annually for the overall rights, which will include streaming rights that Telstra and Optus would bid for.

The current deal does not expire until 2018, but discussions are set to intensify later this year or early next year. Should a deal be reached early next year, the final year of the current deal could be renegotiated.

The Australian Cricketers’ Association will also keep a close eye on negotiations as it prepares to enter into discussions with CA over a new memorandum of understanding.

Fox has also been sounded out about a dedicated 24-7 cricket channel. But the network has maintained it needs domestic content, and not just the rights to overseas tours it currently enjoys, to launch such a channel.

Should Fox win a slice of the action, it could ultimately help Nine, whose chief executive Hugh Marks last week warned CA another leap in the value of the rights would be “uneconomical”.

“We have to make the right decisions for us financially, but the costs of sports rights, as we adjust our business to whatever the new landscape is between mobile devices and viewing etc, the sports rights costs will start to adjust to what consumption behaviour is around that as well,” he said.

“If we just focus on free-to-air, I don’t think there can be a lot of cost inflation in free-to-air, but if you focus on how do you grow sports revenue then there are ways to do that and I think we as a partner look at making sure that we’re a good player and make sure that those sports continue to advance and progress.”

Nine paid $450 million in cash and contra for the rights over five years from 2013, having handed over $45 million annually under the previous deal. If a simulcast deal with Fox was to be achieved, it would require a major philosophical shift by Nine, for it has closely guarded the rights since Kerry Packer won them during the World Series split.

Cricketing broadcast rights have exploded around the world in the past decade but dedicated sports networks, even in India, have struggled to recoup their outlay.

Despite this, CA continues to enjoy lucrative overseas deals. It is set to finalise a new contract in New Zealand, with India also on the agenda, possibly with incumbent broadcaster Ten Sports. India remains the most lucrative source of income for the organisation.

CA has this year signed new deals in the United States and Canada, including a one-year contract with the NBC Sports Network to show 10 BBL matches. The governing body also continues to expand its own in-house content and is in negotiations with Qantas over live streaming on flights.

With Jon Stensholt

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