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Times Internet buys Willow.tv; to invest $100M in deal and growth


Times Internet*, the digital arm of the Times Group, has acquired US-based sports broadcaster Willow.TV. The Times group says it has committed $100m to the purchase of Willow and their primary investment into the business – for rights acquisitions, marketing, and to grow cricket in the US market. The channel and its associated “TV Everywhere” service are distributed by the largest satellite, cable, IPTV and online platforms in a variety of subscription packages, and is available on 7 of the top 10 pay television platforms in the US.

In an email to MediaNama, a Times Internet spokesperson has said that Willow.TV has bout 80% of all cricket rights in the US, and there are changes planned to the way it approaches broadcasting of key tournaments: “Willow will exclusively broadcast and stream the ICC T20 tournament next week, and the ICC World Cup in 2019. This will be the first time an ICC tournament would be available on a TV channel and not pay-per-view.”

The company declined to comment on the size of the Cricket watching audience in the US.

Some notes on Willow.tv, the deal, and some history (Nikhil adds)

1. Times Internet’s second big Cricket deal: In November 2014, Times Internet acquired a majority stake in CricBuzz, a popular Cricket website, and a competitor for old favorite Cricinfo. Following that, in January 2015, Times Internet merged its Cricket brand GoCricket with Cricbuzz.

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2. Fit with Times Internet’s video rights: This is an addition to Times Internet’s video clips recent deal, of, erm, exclusive rights to 6 minute video clips from every hour of the match coverage from start to end of match, for the ICC World T20 Cricket World cup. Other events covered under the deal are: ICC Champions Trophy 2017, ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2018, ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018, ICC Women’s World Twenty20 2018 and ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.

3. Synergy with Cricbuzz: video content will give Cricbuzz an advantage over Cricinfo, which will, in all likelihood, not have access to video content and streaming from key tournaments. Times Internet has said that Cricbuzz will exclusively deliver pre-match, in-match, and post-match highlights and coverage of the entire tournament to US digital audiences.

4. Willow.tv has been acquired (and almost acquired) before:

a. In 2008, Reliance BIG Entertainment had announced plans to buy 75% in Willow.tv for $60-70 million on the acquisition 0f 75% stake in Willow.tv. I 2010, Rajesh Sawhney, the then President of Reliance Entertainment confirmed to MediaNama that the deal never went through.

b. In 2010, the ill-fated Global Cricket Ventures, acquired Willow.tv for an undisclosed amount. Global Cricket Ventures was a joint venture between an unknown ‘Net Link Blue’, and a NASDAQ listed Live Current Media (which also owned the domain name Cricket.com). GCV raised $10 million from Elephant Capital, an AIM listed fund floated by the Dabur family. It all went downhill for Global Cricket Ventures from there, following Lalit Modi’s fallout with the BCCI. Some of our coverage:

– Cricket.com Faces Cybersquatting Challenge; Elephant Capital To Restructure GCV Investment
– BCCI Expels Rajasthan Royals, Kings XI Punjab From IPL; Impact On Deals, Partners
Global Cricket Ventures Doesn’t Know If It Still Has CLT20, IPL Digital Rights
Live Current Media Sells IPL Portal Rights, Cricket.com; Exits Cricket Biz

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How Willow.tv survived this should be quite a story in itself. Live Current Media, Global Cricket Ventures and Elephant Capital (which is probably a case-study of bad investments) certainly didn’t come out of all this unscathed. The latest from Elephant Capital on Global Cricket Ventures:

Global Cricket Ventures Limited, Mauritius (“GCV”)

In November 2009, Elephant Capital announced an investment of £5.95 million in a primary transaction in GCV, a cricket-focused, digital media and broadcasting company. At the time of its investment, GCV was the exclusive licensee of key internet and mobile rights to the Indian Premier League (“IPL”) and key internet rights to the Champion’s League Twenty20 (“CLT20”) cricket tournaments.

In mid-2010, the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced that it would be rescinding its global media contracts with World Sports Group (“WSG”) from whom GCV sub-licensed many of its own cricket-related rights. Further, WSG terminated GCV’s contractual rights relating to the IPL. This obviously dealt a fatal blow to the business prospects of GCV, as GCV lost its key rights (which were re-awarded to other parties). As a result of WSG’s termination, GCV entered into active discussions to settle liabilities towards its own sub-licensees and has made significant progress on such settlements.

GCV has been plagued by litigation on several fronts. This unfortunately continues with GCV embroiled in litigation in both the US and the UK. The Investment Manager has been working through this and aiding GCV, and hopes that these matters can be brought to a resolution over the next 12 months.

The investment has been valued at £0.64 million based on the Investment Manager’s best estimate of the net asset value of GCV attributable to the Company’s shareholding in GCV.

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