Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Tag: Willow TV

The iPad, the World Cup and a Baby: A Story of Cricket-Life Balance

This World Cup was unlike any other. I told part of the story at the end of yesterday’s BoredWaani podcast on experiences watching cricket in the US, but wanted to elaborate below.

Reason #1: The iPad
Willow TV streamed the games to all kinds of Internet-connected devices. I could switch from my iPad, to my iPhone to the Roku-connected TV and the game was on.

Reason #2: The Baby
My wife and I had a baby 5 months before the World Cup began. So the 5am starts weren’t an issue; one of the three of us was bound to be up at that hour.

But if you’ve ever had a baby, you know that you can’t deposit yourself in front of a television for a 7-hour game. You can’t deposit yourself in front of a television for T20. You can’t for more than 5 minutes until the baby is much older. I hear some people have to wait until their kid goes off to college. We’ll see.

So here we were: a cricket-loving couple with a 5-month old that was a higher priority than the World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar may be God, but his smile doesn’t make grown men weep. Just the way it is. His backfoot punch past the bowler, on the other hand…

This is where the iPad came in: we watched more cricket on the iPad than on the television. At 5am, without getting out of bed, we’d reach over to the iPad on the nightstand and flip it on. One ear bud in my wife’s ear, one in mine, drift in and out of sleep, sometimes with the baby sleeping between us.

As the day would begin: the baby’s playing in her room, Tendulkar’s playing on the iPad in a corner. We’re changing the baby, Ponting’s lying on the changing pad next to her. The baby goes to sleep, ear buds to hear Ravi Shastri.

Ubiquitous cricket. There’s nothing like it.

Reason #3: India won

Read the rest of this entry »

The Very Last Thing on Willow TV: a Boredwaani

I was invited to appear on a couple of episodes of the popular podcast Boredwaani on Bored Cricket Crazy Indians, the first of which is up on their site today.

In this episode, Samir Chopra, the Cricket Couch and I talk about our experiences with Willow TV both as past loyal customers as well as the more recent issues.

Thanks to Subash, Samir and Homer for making this happen.

The 2nd Last Thing I Write About Willow

So it’s been a fascinating couple of days. I’ve spoken with a number of people about the Willow saga, including the CEO of Willow TV, Mr. Vijay Srinivasan. Which leads to make only the following points:

  • Everything I wrote in my article can be backed up by reputable media sources (and, I’ve been told, independent corroboration by people close to Willow), except for my final leap of logic: that their web site woes were linked to their financial woes. I had two narratives, one of a failing web site and another of a deteriorating financial situation. One began in April, the other ended in April. As I told Mr. Srinivasan, it wasn’t rocket science to make the connection. If I got it wrong, so be it.
  • I regret one thing in my original post: the title. I tried to be dramatic after spending an entire long article making sure I had all the facts right. It’s something I see in mainstream media all the time, but I thought I was better than that. Sometimes when you think your blog doesn’t have an audience, you do stupid things. Rule #37 of blogging: Always assume the person you are writing about will read your blog and sue you for it. Mr. Vijay Srinivasan is not suing me, of course, but is disappointed. That is the only part of my blog Mr. Srinivasan told me he took issue with. He says they’re doing fine financially.
  • I was asked why I didn’t get in touch with Willow before posting the story. Simple answer: they don’t put any contact information out in the open other than their support email. And no one answers their support email. I do not understand how a web site can go dead in this day and age. It’s not that hard to put up a simple “Great things coming soon, we’re working on improvements to the back-end” (which is what Mr. Srinivasan said Willow is up to at the moment).
  • A word of advice for Willow and Mr. Srinivasan: this is the Internet. The only way to beat the bad press is to get your voice out there. If you had a presence on the Internet, either through simple emails to your customers, or a responsive twitter/facebook account, or just old-fashioned updates to your website like they did in the ’90s, you could have avoided all of this.

A final note: I love Willow TV, with all its quirks. They provided the best cricket experience I have ever had– including the 16 years I’ve lived in India. Has anyone ever been able to watch cricket on their phone, and then seamlessly continue on their laptop, and then seamlessly continue on their iPad, and then effortlessly continue on their TV? It was great. Which is what made the subsequent fall even more dissapointing.

I hope I don’t have to write more about Willow. Two days, and I’m mostly sick of it. I hope they just get back to being awesome so I can forget about this business. I don’t want to be known as the blog about financial dealings behind media rights for cricket streaming in America.

It’s just not cricket.

P.S. If you really want to keep track of the sordid story of media rights for cricket, Nikhil Pahwa at Medianama is your man. He’s been doing it much longer and much better than I have.

Citations for the Willow TV Story

My integrity is being questioned, so here is a partial list of sources for the Willow TV article:

  • Willow TV was acquired by GCV in 2010: Reuters
  • GCV had the rights to CLT20 and IPL: Reuters
  • Elephant Capital invested in GCV, and pulled their investment out: DealCurry
  • Elephant Capital pulled their investment out: Elephant Capital
  • GCV sub-licensed the IPL rights from WSG: VC Circle
  • WSG loses rights over improper facilitation fee: NDTV
  • Lalit Modi is the father-in-law of Gaurav Burman: VC Circle
  • Gaurav Burman is the director of Elephant Capital: Elephant Capital
  • IPL rights went to Indiatimes: IndiaTimes
  • All GCV onilne properties went silent: (at time of writing, all links here pointed to sites not updated for a few months): GCV
  • BCCI and WSG go to court, court instructs to settle: NDTV

How Lalit Modi and the BCCI (Almost) Killed Willow TV

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.

Coup de grĂ¢ce? Lalit Modi is the father-in-law of Gaurav Burman, one of the directors of Elephant Capital.

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.]

Epilogue

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. Read the rest of this entry »