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MIB proposes to change mandatory sports feed sharing norms

The govt wants shared feeds of sporting events on DD & other platforms.

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 NEW DELHI: In what could have far reaching effects on the financial viability of sports TV channels or streaming platforms, which acquire exlcusive rights for sporting events for the India region spending billions of dollars, the government proposes to amend rules relating to mandatory sharing of feeds of sports of national importance with not only the pubcaster, but with other distribution platforms. Reason for proposed changes: people with less purchasing power should not lose out on the sporting excitement.

“…viewers, who do not have DD FreeDish [pubcaster Doordarshan’s FTA DTH platform] or Doordarshan’s terrestrial network, are either unable to watch these sporting events of national importance or are compelled to watch these sporting events on highly priced sports channels and, thus, the very objective with which the Parliament had enacted the Sports Act has been defeated,” Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) said in a notice issued on 17 October 2018, adding that public comments were invited within a month on the changes proposed in the relevant regulation relating to sharing by rights holding private TV channels of broadcasting feed with the pubcaster.

As per provisions of the Sports Act, the live feed received by Prasar Bharati from the content rights owners or holders is only for the purpose of re-transmission of the said signals on Doordarshan’s own terrestrial and DTH network (DD FreeDish) and not for
cable operators or other distribution networks. The ad sales is also done by private companies after taking the pubcaster into confidence with the additional ad revenue shared between the rights holding TV channel and DD.

Though the sports rule was legislated in 2007, the shared signals on DD were sometimes donloaded by distribution platforms from satellite-delivered channels and re-transmitted not only in India but also in some neighbouring countries. Seeing this trend, Star India, which was investing heavily in sports, had moved the courts and in August 2017 got a favourable ruling from the Supreme Court that ruled the shared feed of sporting events of national importance, as mandated by the government, can only be re-transmitted on DD terrestrial network and DD FreeDish to avoid piracy and possible loss of revenue for the rights holder.

Additonally, private DTH platforms and MSOs/LCOs were barred from showing DD's non-terrestrial channels that re-transmitted the shared feeds after the August 2017 Supreme Court ruling for the duration of the that particular event and it was stressed on also by Prasar Bharati fearing adverse reaction from the apex court.

Within few  days of the SC ruling favouring the rights holding TV channel or broadcaster and few days before the lucrative IPL cricket rights bids were opened last year, Jawahar Goel, chairman and MD of Dish TV, India's first DTH platform started by the Zee group, raised an alarm on Star's emerging cricket monopoly.
In a hard-hitting letter, addressed to various Indian government organisations, including MIB, regulator TRAI and the anti-monopoly authority, Goel had alleged that combined with the financial muscle and near-monpoly over cricket for India region, Star's acquistions will impact "every stakeholder in the broadcasting industry, starting from the distributors of  TV channels". Star India finally outplayed other bidders for the IPL rights for the next five years in 2017 by coughing up a whopping $2.4 billion.

In the light of recent developments in the distribution segment of the Indian broadcast system, MIB's latest move gains importance. So, what's the proposed amendment being sought to be inserted in the 

Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharti) (Amendment) Bill, 2018?

The relevant portion of the amendment being proposed for which stakeholders' comments have been invited reads: “No content rights owner or holder and no television or radio broadcasting service provider shall carry a live television broadcast on any cable and/or Direct-to-Home network and/or IPTV and/or terrestrial network or radio commentary broadcast in India of sporting events of national importance, unless it simultaneously shares the live broadcasting signal, without its advertisements, with the Prasar Bharati to enable them to re-transmit the same on its own terrestrial network and Direct-to-Home network and on other television distribution platforms/networks where is it mandatory to broadcast mandatory channels notified by the Union Government under Section 8 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 in such manner and on such terms and conditions as may be specified.”

At present, Star India and Sony Pictures Networks India --- the latter has a partnership with ESPN that got a divorce from Star for sports channels in 2012 --- are two networks that own and manage sports channels in India. However, in recent times digital players like Facebook, Reliance Jio, Amazon and Alibaba-controlled Indian digital wallet company PayTM have shown interest and bid for cricket properties in India. Facebook also won the India rights for La Liga football that was streamed free on the digital platform, while being sub-licensed to Sony for normal TV broadcast.

However, an industry observor pointed out that apart from the fact that the pubcaster's DD FreeDish platform could get further hit financially if the proposed changes are legislated, it was also highlighted  that what could have further spurred the government into action is that after TRAI's new tariff regime kicked in last month, most broadcast companies and TV channel managers converted FTA TV channels into pay channels  depleting further the basic FTA bouquet aimed at people with low purchasing power.

It would be interesting to watch how this proposed change plays out with stakeholders.

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