Regulators

SC orders DD to relay Ten feed in toto, ads and all

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NEW DELHI: Even as the Supreme Court today gave an interim order on a special leave petition (SLP) filed by exclusive telecast rights holder for the India-Pakistan cricket series, Taj Sports India issued a veiled threat through a submission in the apex court that tomorrow's match may get blacked out in India on television.

This, according to an interpretation, would not amount to contempt of court or any of its directives. In an interim order today, after hearing over 90 minutes of arguments, the Supreme Court has directed Ten Sports to make available its signal to national broadcaster Doordarshan. It was clarified in the order that Ten's signal should be relayed by DD as is - complete with logo and all the advertising that the Dubai-based sports broadcaster has secured.

It needs noting that for Saturday's tour opener, DD played smart and did not carry Ten's logo while relaying the signals on the terrestrial network for at least one and a half hours in the morning after the match started.

Further, on the basis of the free signals made available to it, DD had said that it earned about Rs. 100 million in advertising revenue from the match.

The apex court also ordered Prasar Bharati/DD to deposit Rs 100 million with it as surety towards compensation payable, if any, to Ten Sports in regard to the dispute. But Taj Sports India Pvt Ltd, the petitioner of the SLP, has added its own twist to the tale by contending that it is merely the distributor of the signal in India, the rights of which are held by the Dubai based company - Taj Television Ltd.

Taj Sports India has also submitted in the court that since it's just an agent of the Dubai-based company in India, it can only give DD the signal if the original rights holder, which is Taj Television Ltd (Ten Sports management company), gives it the signals to distribute in India. If the signals are not given to Taj India, then it cannot provide DD any signal, it has been said.

Though Taj TV Dubai's CEO Chris McDonald refused to make any comments, informed sources in Taj Sports and its distribution associate Modi Entertainment Network indicated, "There is a possibility that the Dubai company does not provide us the signal in India to distribute for tomorrow's 

match."

If this happens, it would also mean that the cable and satellite homes would not receive the Ten Sports channel in India, which, in a way, may also amount to breach of contract between Taj Sports India and cable operators in India who have signed up for Ten Sports.

It has also been pointed out by industry observers that if Taj TV, Dubai doesn't provide the signals for distribution in India, some of the big advertisers and sponsors on Ten are also likely to get upset in India and may drag the broadcaster to the court. At the end of the day, India is a bigger market for cricket than any other region in Asia.

The blackout threat, however, is seen to be posturing on the part of Ten rather than any serious ploy to block DD. Industry sources say this is just another way for Ten to register its protest at the SC ruling. Incidentally, the arguing lawyer for Taj Sports India Pvt Ltd is Kapil Sibal, a senior leader of Congress, which is out to take the `shine' off the BJP-led outgoing government's media campaign in the run-up to the general elections.

The next hearing is listed for Wednesday.

When indiantelevision.com posed certain queries to the industry and other broadcasters who have sporting properties as to what sort of message the present imbroglio sends out to the industry, mixed reactions were obtained.

Sony Entertainment TV India CEO Kunal Dasgupta, while referring to the Ten-DD case, said, "It should not have been allowed to come to this stage. The matter should have been resolved amicably much before the series started."

SET India, which has rights to some ICC-organised cricket round the globe till 2007, including the next cricket World Cup in the West Indies, it is learnt had also bid for the Pakistan cricket rights that went finally to Taj TV of Dubai. But the issue is that when Taj and others had bid for Pakistan cricket, nobody had even thought in their dreams that an India-Pakistan series could have been possible.

ESPN Software India's MD RC Venkateish was, however, cautious while reacting to the Ten-DD case. "The case is still being heard by SC and it would be unfair to comment on hypothetical situations," he said.

Meanwhile, officials at India's information and broadcasting ministry have been huddled in a series of meetings since the time SC passed its interim order in the afternoon, trying to see what could be done or could not be done if Dubai-based Taj Sports refuses to play ball for some part of the match tomorrow.

One of the options being considered is: can clause 20 of the Cable TV (Network) Regulation Act be invoked to pass an order to make it mandatory for DD to get terrestrial telecast rights for events of national importance? The antiquated Telegraph Act is also being looked into by the government to see whether downlinking of Ten signals is possible straight from the satellite if the integrated receiver decoders in India are switched off from Dubai.

A senior government official said, "We are looking at various options, but still feel that Ten would not take the extreme step of blacking out the India region." Even the work on an Ordiance has started in the ministry.

So, that is where things stand as of now. Though SC has tried its best to mediate and the second one-day international is likely to be seen on DD, minus the pubcaster's logo or advertising, an element of uncertainty still envelopes the matches.

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