Cricket telecast talks get curioser

NEW DELHI: The India-Pakistan cricket telecast rights deal took another bizarre turn with Ten Sports and its distribution agent, Modi Entertainment Network (MEN) offering pubcaster a deal that is broken up into metros and rest of the country.

According to informed sources, Ten has said that it is ready to give the cricket signal feeds to DD , in the public interest, but the arrangement would not be valid for the four metros of New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.

So, what does this mean? Ten has said that its cricket feed (complete with its own commentators and advertisements) could be put on a transponder on Insat 2E for rest of the country to watch on DD, while in the four aforementioned metros, Ten Sports' satellite signals would have to be used by cable ops for cable TV subscribers..

Though the technicality of this offer is questionable --- why cannot signals from Insat 2E be downlinked in Mumbai, for instance? --- Ten Sports has also said that it would not compensate DD for the hours it would use up for showing the cricket matches and providing Ten with a platform.

Ten is understood to have hinted that it would not be possible for it to offer more than this because of various commercial reasons. Unless, of course, the government provides it with an escape route, which can come in the form of an executive order from the government.

However, a final decision on this option, along with two other options, would be taken tomorrow in Prasar Bharati's board meet.

This is like a one-dayer which is likely to go to the wires with the result not known till the last few balls. Slightly over 36 hours before the first ball is bowled in the first one day international between Pakistan and India on Saturday, Ten Sports and pubcaster Doordarshan were still trying to hammer out a solution till late in the evening today.

Ten Sports and its distribution agent, Modi Entertainment Network (MEN), refused to offer any comment on the negotiations that took place today. When contacted, MEN advisor RK Singh said that he was not in a position to say anything.

Ten Sports and MEN today took a tough stance during negotiations with officials from the Indian government and pubcaster Prasar Bharati hinting that if DD is to be made available signals, then the loss of revenue because of various reasons, including connectivity, would be between $ 20-24 million, which has to be compensated..

Prasar Bharati, represented by CEO KS Sarma and director-general of Doordarshan Naveen Kumar, reportedly, was willing to increase the offer for terrestrial rights marginally --- around $ 8 million.

A new twist got added when a Chennai high today court reserved its order on a public interest litigation filed there. In the absence of any direction or guidance from the court, the government is undecided on promulgating an Ordinance making it compulsory for anybody and everybody to share the feeds of events of national importance with the public service broadcaster (DD) terrestrially.

An ordinance or an executive order is the last option that the government would like to exercise, but officials pointed out that a simple order under clause 20 of the cable TV (Network) Regulation Act might also do the trick if it comes down to the crunch overs.The government-organised discussions between Prasar Bharati and Ten-MEN combine continued late and the hint from Sarma to Kumar, who took over the latter part of the negotiations, was that the figure quoted as amounting to loss of revenue --- $ 20-24 million --- should be "revisited" to see the basis of the calculations.

If a simulcast model is adopted, then DD would do its own marketing, while Ten its own. It is also learnt that DD released a tentative list of ad rates in the industry for the cricket matches earlier in the day in anticipation of a solution.

However, both Prasar Bharati and the government acknowledge that Ten Sports has point a when it expresses its fears of DD's terrestrial signals being stolen or pirated by those cable operators who haven't signed up with Ten yet and anxiously waiting for a clearer picture to emerge. It has also been agreed that if DD also telecasts the matches, the exclusivity factor, which had been touted by Ten to its advertisers, would diminish."So, basically it has boiled down to money with Ten not also inclined to say no (to a DD offer)," a senior government official, who participated in the earlier part of the meeting, said, adding that the best formula would be shake hand "somewhere midway."

An option of deferred telecast on DD has not enthused its parent oragnisation Prasar Bharati, which feels that it would be not of much use as All India Radio has bagged broadcast rights. Moreover, in this age of Internet and other modern technical gizmos deferred telecast of one-day cricket matches don't make much sense.Deferred telecast is also not enthusing DD as it would be hard to decide the quantum of time by which the telecast would be deferred on DD. If this option were agreed upon then, deferring it beyond 5-6 overs would be useless from DD's point of view.


On the other hand, the government also feels that non-telecast of the matches on DD of a series, which has been "largely facilitated by the government", may lead to law and order problems. With almost the whole of Mumbai not getting Ten Sports, even in Delhi 40 per cent of the cable ops haven't signed up.

In places like Pune and smaller towns of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan, non-telecast of the cricket matches may lead to violence too, government fears. "In this case of India and Pakistan series, the government should not be seen as a bully. We are just trying to facilitate matters," a senior government said.Earlier in the day, McDonald met broadcast and cable regulator chief Pradip Baijal.

Though the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) termed it a "courtesy visit", it is likely that Ten raised its apprehensions on cable operators stealing signals if DD is provided a feed and dwelt on the commercial deals that have been struck with the cable ops till now, amongst other issues.

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