Millions of soccer fans across south Asia could be deprived of live World Cup action this month after a fledgling cable sports channel based in Dubai won the right to broadcast the event in the region.
Taj Entertainment Network (TEN), which went on air April 1, beat heavyweight networks including Rupert Murdoch’s ESPN-Star for the monthlong tourney, which kicks off May 31 in Japan and South Korea.
India’s only terrestrial network, pubcaster Doordarshan, which reaches 70 million homes, was forced out of the World Cup scramble by the high pricetag.
TEN Sports is hardly known and little received in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, where it has exclusive rights.
TEN, owned by businessman and cricket supremo Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, hopes to use the event to make an impact in south Asia.
In previous years, Doordarshan telecast all the World Cup games live: An estimated 40 million people tuned in to its coverage of the 1998 World Cup in France.
This year it will have delayed broadcasts of only four games — the May 31 opener between France and Senegal, the semi-finals and the final — under an agreement with TEN Sports.
TEN Sports is better known as the promoter of international cricket in the desert emirate of Dubai.
While cricket is the dominant sport in India, soccer has a massive following. Similar interest is shown in neighboring countries, especially Bangladesh, where fans are incensed at being deprived of live coverage of the World Cup.