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DD to air only Indo-Pak Test highlights

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: Give it as Round One to Ten Sports. Disappointing millions of non-cable TV viewers and radio listeners in India, Indian pubcaster Prasar Bharati will only show the highlights of the India-Pakistan Test series, which gets under way from 13 January.

The reason being that national broadcasters Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) have been unable to hammer out mutually agreeable commercial terms with TV and radio rights holders of Pakistan Cricket, Ten Sports and ARY Digital, respectively, for live telecast of the India-Pakistan Test series.

Interestingly, the Indian government today submitted before the Supreme Court that for the three Tests against Pakistan, it would not force Ten Sports to abide by the downlinking guidelines, which makes it compulsory for all channels to share with Prasar Bharati their feed of cricket matches featuring India, among other listed sports. This law also covers events where telecast deals had been signed earlier.

This could well point to a compromise solution that will apply to all forthcoming cricket series wherein Test matches may be excluded from the broadcasting legislation.

In the Supreme Court today, Prasar Bharati expressed its unwillingness to carry Ten Sports live signals along with its logo and advertisements, while paying compensation of Rs 250 million to the Dubai-headquartered sports broadcaster. Reason: it did not make business sense for DD.

The issue of Rs 250 million compensation is linked to Ten Sports' petition before the Supreme Court which claimed that sharing of live telecast with DD would result in a loss of Rs 200 million. In response to this GE Vahanvati, the solicitor general, had offered Rs 250 million as compensation for the loss incurred.

However, Ten Sports counsel responded by saying that this arrangement was agreeable only if DD did not add its own advertisements to the live feed. This was not acceptable to DD.

In an interim arrangement, DD has agreed to carry 90 minute highlights. DD will get the highlights feed free of cost from Ten Sports.

Ten Sports, the exclusive rights holder for Pakistan cricket, had challenged in the Supreme Court a government diktat making it mandatory for all rights holders of sporting events of national importance to share them with DD.

According to Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma, "The matter is still sub-judice, but in the interest of millions of cricket fans in India who don't have access to cable TV such issues should be sorted out as soon as possible."

On last count, TV homes in India totaled slightly over 100 million, of which approximately 60 million (NRS figures) have access to cable TV.

Earlier in the day, just after an interim arrangement on highlights was made in the SC, DD director general Navin Kumar told Indiantelevision.com, "We submitted to the court that we are ready to share the revenue (25:75 in favour of the rights holder) with Ten Sports as per downlinking guidelines. Other demands are like Ten Sports' wish list."

The next hearing of the case is scheduled for 30 January. DD is hopeful that by the time the Test matches come to an end early February and it's time for the ODIs to begin, some sort of firm direction will come from the courts.

That a directive can be expected is also indicated by the apex court's urging the counsels of both Prasar Bharati and Ten Sports to see if it might be possible to reach an agreement so that at least the ODI matches could be telecast live on DD and Ten.

When queried about the matter of ODIs, Ten Sports officials only offered this comment: "We are in discussions with the government and hope to arrive at a workable solution soon."

NO CRICKET COMMENTARY ON AIR EITHER

It is not just DD that will have to do without the cricket feed. An estimated 400 million radio listeners in the country will miss out on All India Radio's cricket broadcast because AIR is unwilling to cough up the $200,000 that Dubai-based ARY Digital, which holds the radio rights to these matches, is demanding from the national radio broadcaster.

AIR's "last and final offer" is $80,000. A Prasar Bharati official said today, "At the moment, it looks highly unlikely that we'd get radio rights for live commentary."

The Hindu Businessline, in a report filed 8 January, had quoted a senior Prasar Bharati official as saying: "We had paid $40,000 last year for the radio rights to the same number of Test matches and ODIs. But this time, we have offered to pay $80,000.

"This is in line with the Commonwealth Games where we have offered to pay $400,000 for telecast rights of the forthcoming event in Melbourne, double of what was paid for the Games held in Manchester."

There is a counter-argument to this though. Which is, as some media planners aver, that AIR stands to garner an estimated $1 million if it does get the radio rights.

ESPN Star Sports, which has also moved the Delhi High Court against downlinking norms and mandatory content sharing, will be closely monitoring the outcome of the latest Ten-DD face-off.

Also read:

SC to Prasar Bharati: File replies to Ten plea

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