Sports broadcasters numbed by government bouncer

NEW DELHI: Like a lethal Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee delivery, private sports broadcasters are still trying to fathom what hit them and are fuming that the government did not take into consideration their concerns while framing a law relating to sports broadcast as it would effect development of sports, in general, in the country.

“It’s a retrograde step that could have been done without,” stated ESPN India managing director RC Venkateish.

Another private broadcaster said that the clauses that have been cleared by the Indian Cabinet relating to uplink and downlink policies, especially those on mandatory sharing of content with pubcaster Prasar Bharati, are “contentious” and can still “open up a can of legal worms.”

The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved a host of stringent media related legislation, including mandatory sharing of sports content by private broadcasters with pubcaster Prasar Bharati.

Such shared content will be telecast by Doordarshan on its terrestrial and direct-to-home (DTH) service and the regulation applies on all future events, including those covered by existing contracts.

Pointing out that the private broadcasters had held talks with government officials on finding a solution to make available popular sports on free TV --- Doordarshan --- Venkateish lamented that the final outcome has totally failed to take into account the “legitimate concerns” of private channels.

He conceded that cost of sports rights for India would crash drastically and, in general, private funding of sports development might also get affected.

Another sports broadcaster said that the mandatory sharing of feed with DD will affect cost of cricket rights largely and that the government step is almost akin to “harking back to days of nationalisation in the 1970s, much before the era of liberalisation had been set in motion.” learns that some of the private broadcasters and agencies involved in buying and selling of sports content are mulling moving courts over the mandatory sharing of sports content with DD for events played within and outside the country.

“Other options like seeking legal redressal will be considered and moving the courts cannot be ruled out,” a private broadcaster admitted, fuming at the fact the government is angling to take away a large slice of revenue pie.

While Ten Sports, which has got embroiled in legal spat with Prasar Bharati over the telecast rights issue twice in the past, was not available for any comments, the newly-launched Zee Sports welcomed the government move.

“We have been always open to sharing feed with DD and welcome this step taken by the government,” Zee Telefilms senior vice-president Ashish Kaul said.

Officials of Prasar Bharati, which manages DD and All India Radio, of course, cannot hide their smiles.

Quoting a saying in Hindustani --- that the camel (read private broadcasters) has finally come under a mountain and found a match --- an official of DD admitted that had the private broadcasting industry not tried to take the terrestrial network for granted on popular events, the government might not have thought of mandating such content sharing.

The piece of legislation okayed by the government yesterday had raised the heckles of agencies worldwide. Even the International Cricket Council (ICC) had written to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, exhorting him to take a more liberal approach on the rights issue.

Questioned on ICC’s letter to Singh, information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy mocked the Council’s concerns saying, “People should know which side of the bread is buttered. After all, a majority of cricket-related monies come from India and the country has the right to frame a law to suit its needs.”

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