Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ten Sports continues to defy the Indian Government

Ten Sports has been the only channel consistently taking on the Government of India and Prasar Bharati, the Govt. controlled television channel, when it comes to sharing of sporting telecast rights.

In November 2005, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a policy guideline for Cable operators and Television Channels operating in India that certain notified sports events must be shared with the Govt. owned Doordarshan, only on a revenue sharing basis. Worse, the guidelines were applicable to several events for which the telecast rights were acquired long back.

This was done primarily because Doordarshan was losing out on the lucrative cricket rights. While Doordarshan knows it can make a lot of money from cricket, it doesn't have the ability and money to compete fair and squarely in the rights market. So it used a backdoor method.

This infringes heavily on the rights of private Telecasters and their ability to make money. However other channels did not care much. ESPN - Star Sports, Zee Sports and various other rights holders including Nimbus did not take the Govt. head on.

Only Ten Sports did. Ten Sports owns cricket broadcast rights to events happening in Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka. Ten Sports consistently challenged the Ministry and Prasar Bharati. In the case of Indian tour of Pakistan in early 2006, Doordarshan backed out of Tests but the ODIs were telecast across both the channels after Doordarshan was forced by the Courts to pay a fixed fee for showing the 'dirty feed' (namely the Ten Sports feed with all the Ten Sports advertisements and logo) without any alterations whatsoever.

Basically the Courts called Doordarshan's bluff on 'public service'. Doordarshan kept claiming that its intentions were noble and not money, and that it wanted maximum number of people to receive the broadcasts. So the Courts ruled that Doordarshan shall show the Ten Sports feed without any alteration and not make money out of any advertisements. Doordarshan also tried showing a pre-match, post-match show, which was also stopped by Ten Sports by going to Courts.

Thus, badly mauled by the legal set-up in India, Doordarshan stayed away during the Indian tour of West Indies. Public service did not come in to the picture, since the matches were in the middle of night.

Now that matches are being held in Sri Lanka in broad daylight and prime time, Doordarshan has dusted and brought back to life 'public service'. Ten Sports, as usual, went to Supreme Court, where the bench is finding Ten Sports' claims perfectly valid.

The impugned guidelines from Ministry of I&B are so pathetic, the Courts are repeatedly smashing them. It has become so much of an embarassment for the Government. The Govt. has avoided bringing a legislation and has used the Ministerial guidelines to impose something as major as controlling the event telecast rights and curtailing the freedom of operation of private enterprises. Even if they try a legislation, there may not be a sensible debate on this issue. Majority in the Parliament will be used to force a 'bad law', forcing the private enterprises to fight in the Courts again.

But, there are ways by which a legislation in Parliament can control events held in India, and forcing the event organizers to sell or offer virtually for free, terrestrial rights to Doordarshan. For events held outside the country, no such thing is possible. It does not happen in UK, or Australia, but in both these countries Terrestrial channels must be offered rights for certain events held in the country. India can look at building such a legislation than coming up with patently unfair policy guidelines.


  1. Since it is true that DD has a greater coverage than other sports channels (in rural areas esp.), wouldn't it be in cricket's best interests for DD to get telecast rights for as many matches as possible?

    This is not to justify Prasar Bharati's claim that it is in public interest to snatch telecast rights from other channels.

    I only suggest that whenever matches are held in India, BCCI must make it a point to give DD the telecast rights in India. Because BCCI is expected to take decisions keeping Indian cricket's best interests at heart.

  2. I quite agree that Doordarshan has a greater coverage. It would help a larger number of cricket fans if a broadcast was available on Doordarshan Terrestrial channel.

    I am also of the view that any Government has the powers to legislate that events held in India be made available on Doordarshan Terrestrial platform, subject to adequate compensation to the event owner. Such adequate compensation must be discussed and agreed mutually.

    That is, a Govt. has rights only to enforce this on the event organizer in its country, but not someone who has purchased the television rights by paying significant money.

    BCCI's motives, I agree, must be to take the game to as many people as possible, and certainly public service, since it is a National body with monopolies on controlling cricket in India. But the same is not true for Ten Sports or any other private company - whose only task is to make as much money as possible, legally.

    Rather than controlling sporting organizers, the Govt. tried to enforce a 'bad law' on Telecast right owners and Cable TV distributors. Applied the law to events acquired retrospectively and events held in foreign countries.

    There was no discussion with the various stakeholders. There was no attempt at legislation and debate in the Parliament. There does not seem to be enough of a consultation with the Law Ministry or Advocate General of India etc. That is why they are continuing to lose in the courts.

    I am quite worried about the Govt.'s approach to applying GOs on major policies without the sanction from the legislature. I have followed the CBSE issue in detail in my blog as well.