ESPN is coming back to India. And that is something to look forward to for most sports lovers.
ESPN, in its joint-venture with News Corp, came as a breath of fresh air to sports production and telecast in the country. From the hazy visuals and awkwardly cut shots of Doordarshan telecast, the viewers, in the mid 90s, were exposed to an experience like never before.
With sports purists on their mind, ESS – ESPN Star Sports – took the quality of sports viewing to a different level. With their constant innovations, still keeping things simple for the audience, the channels Star Sports and Star Cricket dominated the scene for close to a decade. What was refreshing was the fact that despite the low-key approach, their production hit the right chord.
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For viewers, shift from old-school scorecards to manhattans and wagon wheels was a welcome change. The depth, an aspect most broadcasters ignored in the past due to scope of bandwidth, was established and sustained during ESS’s 18-year stint in the country.
From World Cups, to exciting tours, to the Champions League T20, ESS experimented during their journey lasting close to two decades but sustained, and improved, their standards with every series. Having former cricketers on board wasn’t something unusual, but the way they were blended with the fresh approach of Harsha Bhogle and Gautam Bhimani lit up even the dullest passage of play.
Even in this tech-heavy decade, broadcasters and producers struggle to hold the viewers interest, but ESS did that with ease, even during the innings break, lunch or tea intervals. Simply because the sport remained their utmost priority and rest followed. It wasn’t a Salman Khan jig or Aamir Khan appearance they chased, a Sunil Gavaskar masterclass on the art of playing the straight drive was what interested them more. They helped the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Harsha Bhogle become popular Indian voices behind the microphone.
The approach was simple, but with risks. Having a non-cricketer like Bhogle or Gautam Bhimani on the roster could have backfired, but both presenters/commentators held their own in a starry offering.
The wow factor
The outfield appeared greener than usual and the perfect camera chase of a shot called for a wow! Technology was always going to be a plus for ESS and they cashed in on that. There were no awkward ad-rolls, cut run-ups of the bowler, ill-timed shots during a close shout.
The idea, again, was simple – the viewer should get ‘the complete experience’. The 2011 Cricket World Cup, in particular, raised the bar of sports production in the country.
As many as 27 cameras were used during a match and innovations like the movable slip cameras and the low 45-degree field cameras were introduced. In a first, the production also included a mid-wicket camera position for live running between wickets.
The approach of ESPN, in their second stint, would be interesting to see. The scenario has changed and sports is more than often served with entertainment as the main ingredient. Will the company, ruling digital space in India since donkey years with Cricinfo, adapt to the changing trends or hold their own like they did in the 90s?
Whatever happens, it will be a win-win situation for the viewers. Return of ESPN in the sports broadcast scenario is a much-needed change, provided they don’t sway the ‘Saas Bahu’ way.