SC says Prasar Bharati can air the feed from private broadcasters, such as Star India only on terrestrial network, Free Dish but not on Doordarshan channels carried by cable operators and private DTH platforms
New Delhi: The Supreme Court has upheld a Delhi high court ruling of 2015 and said Prasar Bharati, which runs national broadcaster Doordarshan, can air the feed it gets from private sports broadcasters only on its terrestrial network and its own DTH (direct to home) platform, Free Dish.
Star India Pvt. Ltd and other private sports broadcasters stand to benefit from the deal.
Star India Pvt. Ltd and ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd intervened in the case in 2013. The original case was filed in 2007 by Nimbus Communications Ltd and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
In 2012, Star paid Rs3,851 crore for the television, mobile and internet rights to all BCCI-organized matches between 2012 and 2018.
The ruling means Prasar Bharati cannot share the feed it gets from rights owners such as Star on Doordarshan channels that have to be compulsorily carried by all cable and DTH companies.
Under the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007, private broadcasters are obliged to share live broadcasting signals of sporting events of national importance with Prasar Bharati.
But Section 8 of the Cable Television Networks Act makes it mandatory for all cable operators to carry two Doordarshan channels.
This meant cable operators got access to the broadcast of sporting events through two avenues: through the channels of ESPN/Star, or other sports broadcasters, for which they have to pay subscription fees, and via the channels of Doordarshan, which are free.
Star said it had no objections to the telecasts being carried on Doordarshan’s terrestrial channel and its own DTH service. But it said Prasar Bharati’s decision to carry the feed on other Doordarshan channels led to a loss in subscription and advertising revenue.
Uday Shankar, chairman and chief executive, Star India, said, “The real issue for us was unfairness which has been plugged with this verdict. It is difficult to put a financial value on the gain out of this judgement. The mandatory sharing provision was created for those who could not afford to pay for cable TV subscription. A provision that was made for terrestrial consumers was being misused till now."
Prasar Bharati chief executive Shashi Shekhar Vempati said it was “studying the verdict" and would take “appropriate measures".
A top executive at a private sports channel who asked not to be identified said that the verdict, while fair, perhaps strengthens the hand of sports channels a little too much. “It is good news for the private broadcasters and it will certainly help the networks bring back audiences to their channels. However, this may lead to unreasonable pricing of sports channels, especially during important events, given that sports broadcasters will now have no competition."
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