Channel 4 hit out at cricket authorities yesterday after 66 years of live coverage of the sport on terrestrial TV came to an end. In a boost for BSkyB, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) opted for the digital satellite broadcaster's richer offer for exclusive rights to live coverage of England's home Test matches, as well as one-day and Twenty20 internationals.
In a surprise move, Five won daily highlights of home Tests, while the BBC kept most radio rights with TalkSport owner The Wireless Group sharing the domestic Twenty20 Cup. The ECB kept broadband internet rights to itself.
The broadcasters are paying out a total of £220m between them for the 2006-9 contracts, with Sky thought to be paying around £50m a year. C4 said it had lost "several million pounds a year" on its cricket coverage and could not afford to offer more money, adding: "We hope the ECB does not come to regret its decision to turn its back on the hundreds of hours of terrestrial exposure that Channel 4 was offering."
The Government could now be dragged into the row to reconsider what makes up the "crown jewels" of British sports broadcasting that are reserved for terrestrial TV.
Meanwhile, Channel 4 is reportedly considering moving entertainment subscription channel E4 onto the free-to-air Freeview platform.
E4 is committed to Sky until 2008 and also has carriage deals with cable operators NTL and Telewest, but is said by Broadcast magazine to be looking at moving E4 perhaps as early autumn next year. By that time it hopes Freeview will be big enough to generate sufficient advertising revenues to sustain the channel.
Channel 4's strategy for E4 is currently being probed as part of a wider look at the future of 4 Ventures, the corporation's commercial arm. C4 CEO Andy Duncan has ordered a six-week review of 4 Ventures, which takes in E4, Film Four, sales of Channel 4 programmes, merchandising and interactive ventures. The review coincides with the confirmation that commercial director Rob Woodward is leaving the channel.
Reports suggested the review could recommend the break-up of 4 Ventures, and the integration of E4 and Film Four with the main Channel 4 network.
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