Regulators

Prasar Bharati ready for talks with MEN on issue of making DD Sports FTA

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NEW DELHI: Prasar Bharati is willing to start negotiations with KK Modi company, Modi Entertainment Network (MEN), on the issue of converting national broadcaster Doordarshan's DD Sports channel into a free to air channel from the existing pay mode.

According to sources in Prasar Bharati, talks have to be held with MEN on the issue as the latter has gone to court over reported remarks on DD Sports to be converted into a FTA channel and got a stay on any such thing happening.

MEN got an ad-interim injunction from the Delhi High Court ordering Prasar Bharati to maintain status quo with respect to its distribution agreement with MEN. As per the suit filed by MEN, it has sought an order restraining Doordarshan from interfering with the distribution of DD Sports channel in digital and encrypted format till 2005 (the period for which the existing contract runs) exclusively within India and neighbouring countries.

The next hearing of this case has been set for 3 December.

MEN's actions followed recent comments by Prasar Bharati chief executive KS Sarma made to the media in Chennai that the pubcaster was thinking of converting DD Sports into a free to air channel.

Contacted today by indiantelevision.com, MEN chairman Lalit Modi, while admitting that the company has gone to the court, said: "We are open to any negotiations, but no formal communication has come yet from DD or Prasar Bharati."

MEN has an agreement with Prasar Bharati for the distribution activities relating to DD Sports. Modi added that it was unethical on Prasar Bharati's part to take a decision to convert DD Sports into a FTA channel without first consulting MEN as the company has invested a sizeable amount of money in the distribution process of the channel, including set top boxes.

Modi also maintained that DD Sports' viewership is fairly large and no efforts have been spared to increase its penetration through the cable operators who initially were not much in favour of the channel on the prime band.

If DD decides to opt out of the agreement with MEN and goes ahead with its plans on DD Sports, then it may have to pay a hefty amount for exiting the agreement, industry sources said.

Still, Prasar Bharati officials maintained that even while the corporation would abide by the current court ruling, the rationale behind the proposal to make DD Sports FTA channel was that in the pay mode it was not getting enough viewership.

"Considering that DD is a public broadcaster, its role is to spread the messages far and wide. DD Sports in the pay mode was not being accessed in the remote areas and promotion of sports, including the indigenous ones, could not be taken in a proper manner. Hence the broad proposal to convert it into a FTA channel," a senior official of Prasar Bharati told indiantelevision.com.

Moreover, with DD having bagged the terrestrial telecast rights of ICC cricket, including the next World Cup in South Africa, it ideally needs a channel where the cricket matches could be shown without displacing its existing programmes which would be necessitated if the cricket matches are telecast on DD National or even DD Metro.

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