New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday allowed public broadcaster Prasar Bharati to share the live match feed of the ongoing ICC World Cup 2015 it receives from Star India Pvt. Ltd with private cable operators and direct-to-home (DTH) TV networks.

The decision by the Supreme Court is a potential blow to Star India, which has paid nearly 30,000 crore to the International Cricket Council (ICC) for exclusive rights for two World Cups and two World Twenty20 events to be played between 2015 and 2023.

The World Cup is currently being telecast on Star Sports, the sports channels of Star India.

The apex court stayed an order by the Delhi high court, which had on 4 February ruled that Prasar Bharati should air the coverage only on its terrestrial and DTH networks. The Delhi high court’s decision, delivered shortly before the World Cup began on 14 February, sought to restrict Prasar Bharati from sharing feed from the private broadcaster on the must-carry channels for private cable operators.

Prasar Bharati welcomed the Supreme Court order.

“I have not received the court order but I am informed that it’s favourable. If so, we are thankful and the under-privileged will get a lot of relief," said Jawhar Sircar, chief executive, Prasar Bharati, referring to the matches that can now be viewed on Doordarshan.

The apex court order does not disturb the status quo existing since 2007, when the Sports Broadcasting Signals (mandatory sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act was passed, requiring a broadcaster to compulsorily share signals of sporting events of national importance with the public broadcaster.

According to media buyers at advertising agencies, the World Cup was expected to generated between 1,200 crore and 1,500 crore in advertising.

The opinion on Star’s potential revenue loss owing the Supreme Court order is divided.

While Star declined to comment on the matter, media buyers said the broadcaster may not lose out on advertising revenue although it may face a challenge in increasing its subscription revenue. “The fact is that Star has invested a lot in the property and making the feed available in 5-6 regional languages. Now the matches can be shown free of cost on Doordarshan," said a Mumbai-based media buyer, who did not wish to be named.

Essentially, Star India loses its advantage in collecting subscription revenue for Star Sports from cable operators who can now show the matches available on Doordarshan free of cost.

An executive at a cable distribution company said large cable networks, or multi-system operators as they are called, sign annual contracts with Star and would pay the broadcaster subscription for its sports channels.

“However, it is the smaller cable operators who would benefit from SC order as they could not afford to pay Star for its sports packages anyway," he said on condition of anonymity.

A sports marketing expert added that Star would not lose out on advertising as its advertisers were already on board.

“Besides, they prefer the quality of Star’s feeds, especially HD (high definition), and the target audience it offers." he said.

From a sports broadcaster’s perspective, the argument changes as the order could affect the investment made towards sports broadcasting in India.

“Realistically speaking, it’s not just about this World Cup but about the state of sports in this country. The long-term question that we are grappling with is that this could deter investor confidence in acquiring sports broadcast rights going forward as the exclusivity factor which is the premium service is gone," said a person close to the development, requesting anonymity.

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