On paper, the distribution of the annual Cricket World Cup
Tournament looks like an interesting but very niche-oriented pay-per-view event.
The championship runs for one month beginning in late May, during the early morning hours,
when most people are at work or home watching The Jerry Springer Show and Judge
The games themselves are painfully long -- many matches
last as long as nine hours -- and most American sports fans are not familiar with the
So it's not surprising that Viewer's Choice, TVN
Entertainment Corp. and even DirecTV Inc. passed on the PPV package. Without any major pro
boxing or wrestling personalities or a concert hook -- not to mention with a $299 package
price tag -- the networks most likely felt that the series would not draw enough viewers
to justify pre-empting early morning and afternoon PPV movies.
But EchoStar Communications Corp. thought that the
"niche" package was worth taking a chance on. And thus far, the results have
been even greater than the direct-broadcast satellite service expected.
Through the first three weeks of the tournament, sources
said, the company has pulled thousands of unexpected buys for the package -- better than a
number of highly touted PPV-concert performances.
One cable system -- Media General Cable of Fairfax County,
Va. -- offered the package to its fans, and it expects upward of $40,000 in cricket PPV
revenue during an otherwise quiet PPV-event summer.
EchoStar and Media General reached beyond traditional PPV
offerings and were able to tap a lucrative and undeserved category of immigrant and
minority PPV viewers.
Even though the cricket package didn't fit into the
"traditional" PPV-programming model, the two companies decided that it was more
important to reach out to their whole viewer base, instead of just offering programming
that caters to the typical, white-male PPV buyer.
True, the event won't generate the revenue that an Evander
Holyfield-Lennox Lewis fight or Wrestlemania would, but it will provide significant
incremental PPV revenue -- money that the rest of the PPV industry will not share.
More important, packages such as cricket and Copa America
soccer -- which the industry, thankfully, is offering -- help to attract new viewers to
the category, as well as providing programming to an undeserved minority audience that
cable operators will eventually have to convince to put digital boxes in their homes.
Nothing sells new technology better than a product that's
targeted toward a desired audience.
The new digital-PPV sports pod on AT&T Corp.'s Headend
in the Sky service will hopefully serve as a distribution outlet for more cricket, soccer
and other "non-American" sports events.
The more variety the cable industry can provide for its
increasingly diverse audience, the better-positioned it will be to serve as a leader in
household entertainment options heading into the new century.