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Downlink policy harsh on sports and international news channels

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MUMBAI: Sports broadcasters say the downlink policy laid down by the information and broadcasting ministry will adversely affect them.

"You have paid money to buy sports properties and the government puts up a guideline that you have to share it with somebody else. It is like playing a match and the goal post is suddenly shifted to another corner," says ESPN Software India head of distribution Sricharan Iyengar, referring to the mandatory sharing of live cricket telecast with pubcaster Doordarshan as stated in the downlink policy.

International news channels also could be hit by the prescription of "not carrying any advertisements aimed at Indian viewers." BBC, which has a much larger business from India, is likely to be more affected than CNN. Industry watchers also say that CNN could benefit from the co-branding deal it recently signed up with iBN, which is headed by Rajdeep Sardesai and is planning to soon roll out an English-language general news channel.

Some observers feel the global news channels, though, can claim that the ads were targeting an Asian or global audience and were not specifically aimed at the Indian viewers. "It will be difficult for anybody to prove that the ads were designed only for India," says an industry expert.

The channels, however, were not willing to comment openly on the downlinking policy of TV channels. "BBC World, the international news and information channel reaching over 200 countries and territories, is currently considering the content of the guidelines and will respond in due course,'' says a BBC spokesperson.

Foreign-owned broadcasters were still evaluating the impact the guidelines would have on them. SET India COO NP Singh does not think the policy, which requires the company applying for downlinking a channel to be registered in India, will have major tax implications. "It does not necessiate any change in the models broadcasters have been following. Overall, the policy may impact sports broadcasters and news channels but general entertainment channels are untouched. But it is something which we are still evaluating," he says. Foreign companies have their broadcasting arms housed overseas.

Will Sony's hybrid channel Max, which has ICC rights including the World Cup till 2007 be affected? "We have been sharing these matches with DD. We have already built that into our value," says Singh.

But what about distribution revenues as SET Discovery was banking on Ten Sports to drive growth? "The bouquet does get impacted but not in a major way. There is, after all, a difference between exclusive and non exclusive content," says Singh.

Will this drive down valuations of sports properties? Singh says that will depend on several other factors and decisions will not just be based on the distribution model. "It is difficult to say at this stage whether there will be a dramatic or marginal impact. The price will also be based on competitive scenarios."

Star India would be able to take a holistic view only after studying the policy, a company spokesperson said.

Cable operators have welcomed the policy of private broadcasters sharing cricket content with DD. "Sports channels can't arm twist us the way they were doing earlier. We are also happy that Prasar Bharati is allowed to transmit the feed on DD Sports, a satellite channel," says a senior executive of a leading multi system operator.

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