Live coverage of NZ Tests dropped by SABC
For the first time since readmission, the majority of South Africa's television viewers could be left without any live Test cricket on their screens for the 2012-13 season. The national broadcaster, the SABC, has decided it will only air Twenty20s and ODIs and show highlights packages of up to two hours from the upcoming Tests against New Zealand.
This comes after it was revealed that the SABC was under financial constraints, which led it to consider not broadcasting any cricket this summer. Cricket South Africa and the SABC were engaged in talks early this week to negotiate and reached a compromise where the free-to-air channel paid ten times less this season compared to last.
In a press release, CSA said it hoped that the following series against Pakistan, which includes three Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is, "will be shown by the SABC in its entirety". The first of two Tests against New Zealand begins on January 2.
"It is a huge disappointment for us that the Tests matches won't be shown live although we are pleased the other games will," Jacques Faul, CSA acting chief executive told ESPNcricinfo. "We want to grow the game and the communities we want to reach out to will not have access to the matches."
Although CSA sold production rights for home internationals to subscription channel SuperSport, it still controls the broadcast rights. The package it sold to SuperSport excludes the free-to-air rights, which CSA holds back for the SABC. "Even though it means we get less money from those rights we carve them out so we can get the free-to-air broadcast," Faul said.
Last season, the SABC reportedly paid in the range of R30 million (US$3.5 million) to broadcast matches. CSA initially offered the SABC a deal for about half that but it was rejected. It has since had to resort to an even lower rights fee, partly because the parties ran out of time to negotiate further. The first match of South Africa's home summer, a T20 international against New Zealand in Durban will be played in two days' time and CSA were anxious for the deal to be sealed.
It has, however, led CSA to question its arrangement with the SABC going forward. "We will definitely assess our relationship with them in future because we do not want to do business like this," Faul said.
CSA's only other option would be to look at an arrangement with e.tv, the other non-subsciption channel in the country. International cricket matches played in South Africa are regarded as "listed sports events" by the Independent Communications Authority, which means they must be available on free-to-air television.
Despite those regulations, the SABC does not believe it has failed its remit. "The decision to broadcast these matches is a clear indication that we take our mandate seriously and we are cognisant that the public of South Africa deserve to see their cricket team," it said in a statement.
Cricket is the second-most popular sport in South Africa and almost five times as many people watch T20 and ODI matches on the SABC compared to SuperSport. Almost seven times more watch Test cricket on the national broadcaster and those could now face a blackout on live coverage. SuperSport will continue to show all matches live and the SABC's main sports radio station, 2000, will provide live ball-by-ball commentary at all the games.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent