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DD to appeal against Delhi HC’s order barring sharing of 2015 WC feed with cable ops

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NEW DELHI: The countdown to the 2015 Cricket World Cup has begun, and even as teams gear to battle it out on ground, back home, public broadcaster Doordarshan is up for another challenge. This, after the Delhi High Court on 4 February came out with its order which barred Doordarshan from sharing the live feed of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, of which ESPN and Star have the exclusive broadcasting rights, with cable operators.

While this seems like a good news for broadcaster Star India, which could now be hoping for renewing all its distribution deals with multi system operators (MSOs) for its sports channels after its decision of moving to Reference Interconnect Offer (RIO) deals; the pubcaster is all set to appeal against this order in the Supreme Court.

As per DD legal experts, an appeal will be filed in the Supreme Court since the directive of the High Court militates against the must-carry clause and the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007.

A Prasar Bharati official confirmed that the matter had been discussed with the legal consultant Rajeev Sharma this morning and the appeal would be filed shortly.  

Several MSOs in the capital also confirmed to indiantelevision.com that they were planning to either file an independent appeal or intervene in the appeal to be filed by Doordarshan or Prasar Bharati.    

A MSO on condition of anonymity said, “The order has come out only yesterday, we are yet to get a copy of the order. Once that happens, we will read it thoroughly and decide on our next move.”

He further added, “As per the law, we have to carry 24 Doordarshan channels, but we do not control the content that is being aired on its channels. We will meet the Ministry to get a clear understanding of what the next move should be.”

A bench of Justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva passed the order on the plea of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), ESPN and Star who had contended that cable TV operators were getting live feeds through DD channels free of cost, resulting in loss of revenue for them.

Another MSO said, “Since we are under a mandatory obligation of must- carry of DD channels, it is surprising that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry did not intervene in the matter in the Delhi High Court.”

MSOs and LCOs said that this also violated their fundamental right to do business. MSO and LCO representatives told indiantelevision.com that they feared that they may be forced to shut DD channels at the time of the matches on the ground of technical fault as had often been done previously.

In its order, the Court refused to strike down a 2000 notification issued by Prasar Bharati which made it mandatory for cable operators to carry DD National and DD News channels. Simultaneously, the court also rejected the additional prayers by ESPN Star to strike down section 3 of the Sports Act, which makes it mandatory for them to share with Prasar Bharati the live feed of sporting events of national importance.

DD officials said the Mandatory Sharing Act was clear that matches would have to be shared with DD on its terrestrial network and via its direct-to-home Freedish. An official said the directive by the Court appeared to be a precautionary measure aimed at warning cable operators who pirate the signals and not Doordarshan.

In the order, the Court had said, "The appeal as well as writ petition (civil) 8458/2007 are allowed to the extent that the live broadcasting signal shared by ESPN/STAR by virtue of the Sports Act with Prasar Bharati, shall not be carried in the designated Doordarshan channels under the must carry obligation cast by the Cable TV Network Act on cable operators. This shall operate prospectively.”

In its directive, the Court had observed that while the advertisement revenue received by DD in respect of the shared content of the sports channels was to be shared in the ratio of not less than 75:25, "it still does not cater to the loss of subscription revenue" by ESPN and Star.

BCCI, Nimbus Communications and the two sports channels (ESPN and Star) had challenged the High Court's single judge November 2007 order rejecting their pleas that no cable television network, Direct-to-Home (DTH) Network, multi-system network or local cable operator could broadcast such sports events without a licence from the content owners.

Broadcaster Star on its part is currently reading the judgment in detail and internal discussions are on. “We need to understand the nuances of the High Court order and then come up with a strategy which is both under law and our business practices,” said a source from Star.

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