The decision is a landmark moment for Test cricket. England’s Test on Friday will be the first to be shown on free-to-air television in the UK since the 2005 Ashes series.
Channel 4 is expecting record audiences for the matches given the appetite for televised live sport during lockdown. The third Test in Ahmedabad is a day-night game starting at 9am UK time, making it more accessible in this country, but even the other two Tests should attract decent audiences for the final two sessions of play from around 7am onwards.
Channel 4 is understood to be one of six broadcasters who expressed an interest in the rights, including ITV, Sky, BT and Amazon. The other option was for Star to retain the rights and put the series on its streaming app, Hotstar.
However, Channel 4 has been the front-runner from early on in the process and Star was attracted to the possibility of a bigger audience with a free-to-air partner in the UK and less keen to sell to a rival satellite broadcaster in Sky.
Channel 4 won multiple awards for its innovative cricket coverage in the early 2000s before Sky won exclusive rights to England cricket from 2006 onwards, pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into the sport.
Sky has shown all England’s tours overseas since 1990, apart from the Ashes series in 2017 when it lost the Australia rights deal to BT Sport. Sky will now be focussing on regaining that deal later this year.
This tour is unusual in that the rights were held by a broadcaster and not a cricket board. The BCCI bundled all its rights, international and domestic, to Star Sports in a five-year deal from 2017 for around $950 million. Star then sells on rights in foreign territories to recoup some of its outlay.
Star is part of the Disney business. Disney is keen to invest more in sport and Star sees the opportunity of putting this tour on free-to-air television in the UK as a way to attract more supporters to cricket and possibly drive up interest for subscriptions to the Hotstar app in the future.