There is a new war brewing in sports broadcasting. Between private sports broadcasters and state-owned Prasar Bharati. And if the latter is victorious, private sports broadcasters stand to lose. Substantially.
Earlier this week, the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry proposed an amendment to the decade-old Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007. The Act requires private sports broadcasters such as Star India and Sony to share their live feeds of sporting events that are of national importance with the public broadcaster. Prasar Bharati, which runs television network Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio, then retransmits the broadcast signals on its terrestrial network and its own direct-to-home (DTH) platform, DD Free Dish.
The idea behind the Act was to make important sporting events like cricket, football and hockey world cups accessible to as many Indians as possible. Now, the ministry wants such content to reach “the largest number of viewers, on a free-to-air basis.” With the new amendment, DD will be able to air these events on private cable and DTH networks as well. Previously, DD was only allowed to rebroadcast on its own distribution networks.
The proposed amendment will come as a bonanza for DD and its customers. It will, however, cut into the earnings of private sports broadcasters—adversely impacting the subscription and advertising revenues of private channels that actually hold the rights to these events. Even sporting federations like the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will not be spared as the value of their properties is likely to diminish without exclusivity.
This doom and gloom sentiment isn’t without cause. In fact, it has been years in the making. Ever since the Mandatory Sharing Act—as it is usually called—came into existence in 2007. Right from its inception, the Act drew a lot of flak. The issue stems from a key part of the Act—there is little clarity on how the government defines or categorises events of national importance.
In the absence of this clear definition, multiple industry executives indicated that the central government, which notifies such events, is abusing the Act’s provisions. According to them, the government often selects events that are less about public interest and more in line with improving DD’s viewership and advertising potential.
“They pick what they like and what can deliver results, not for the public but for themselves,” said an industry executive, who has been privy to the discussions between Prasar Bharati and the I&B ministry.
This is borne out by the I&B ministry’s priorities over the last few years. Last year, for months, the ministry worked on a proposal to include the Indian Premier League (IPL)—a T20 cricket tournament run by the BCCI but with teams owned by private players—as a listed event for mandatory sharing with DD.