How Lalit Modi and the BCCI (Almost) Killed Willow TV
by Devanshu Mehta
UPDATE: Willow TV CEO, Vijay Srinivasan, tells me that Willow is alive and well. Willow will broadcast the English summer. Updates to the site are underway. He has disputed the article. Every financial deal I have reported in this article is backed-up by either an article in a reputable news source or an official corporate release. I have simply laid it all out on one page. Perhaps reports of Willow’s death are exaggerated, but to all appearances they have been on life support since March.
I’ve tracked this story for a couple of months now, both as a blogger and as a long-time Willow TV customer, and I finally have a breakthrough. Willow TV was a victim of the BCCI/Modi saga. The details are as follows:
Willow TV— the website that has provided legal live streaming of cricket on the Internet in the United States for 8 years– is on life support. The web site has not been updated since the World Cup. There are no working links to subscribe to their service. Customer support has been non-responsive. The silent masses wonder– what’s up with Willow TV? (see Samir Chopra’s recent woes that inspired my investigation.)
What Happened to Willow?
Willow TV was acquired by a company called Global Cricket Ventures in 2010. Earlier, there had been interest from Anil Ambani, but after that deal fell through, GCV stepped in. GCV had the rights to the Champions League T20 as well as the IPL. Add to that the World Cup rights in 2011, Willow TV seemed destined for greatness. In late 2010, an India-focused private equity firm called Elephant Capital invested $10 million in GCV for a 50% stake. The Willow TV World Cup broadcast, after some initial hiccups, was a success. They streamed the matches to browsers, IPTV devices (PS3, Roku, Wii, etc.), iPhones, Androids and iPads everywhere and even got their own channel on satellite television.
It was a great pleasure and gave US viewers a taste of a possible future where cricket was available all the time on any device of their choosing.
Enter: Lalit Modi
I don’t have all the details, but here is what I know: GCV sub-licensed the IPL on-line and mobile broadcast rights from World Sports Group (WSG). Last June, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) scrapped the agreements for global media rights with WSG. The reason? An alleged improper facilitation fee of $90 million paid by broadcast firm by Multi-Screen Media (MSM, owners of Set MAX TV Channel) to WSG. The BCCI claimed that former IPL chief Lalit Modi had struck the deal independently without prior knowledge of the board.
So, suddenly, WSG->GCV->Willow TV was left without rights to the IPL and CLT20. This time the IPL online rights went to Indiatimes. And everything went further downhill.
In March 2011, Elephant Capital decided to pull their investment out of GCV and since then all their online properties have gone silent. It appears they have no more money to run the operations.
WSG went to court after being stripped of the TV rights, and it seems the court has instructed them to settle with BCCI in a civil court. The BCCI, for its part, is in no mood to do business with anyone from the Lalit Modi era.
And that’s what happened to Willow TV. They were at their peak, offering a great service across a range of devices when the rug got pulled from under them. Their only crime was that they were acquired by a company who was in bed with a company who allegedly did a shady deal with Lalit Modi.
[Of course, this doesn’t excuse the fact that they are unresponsive, opaque and apparently, giving people a hard time when they want to cancel their subscription.]
Yet– hope springs eternal. If you have a working subscription, the current Pakistan tour of West Indies works just fine in a browser, though they’ve dropped IPTV device, phones and tablet support. And I did get a mysterious email from them a month ago about IPL streaming that made me very happy for a couple of weeks. But mostly, it’s a near-dead web site and a service on life support. Indiatimes streams IPL in the US with a three hour delay. A three hour delay for an IPL game. I have no words.
For a few weeks in 2011, Willow TV showed us a glimpse of a possible tomorrow. Cricket available where you want it, when you want it. I miss it already.