22 Nov 2017
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Jawahar Goel complains to I&B minister, CCI against Star’s cricket monopoly

MUMBAI: Dish TV CMD Jawahar Goel, who is a veteran of many battles against broadcasters, has hit out at Rupert Murdoch’s Star India for trying to create a monopoly in sports broadcasting that is set to hurt not only distribution platforms such as DTH and cable TV but also consumers.

In his letter to Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, Competition Commission of India (CCI), the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Goel has said that the broadcaster has a 44% share of the sports genre, and that if it manages to acquire the Indian Premier League (IPL) media rights, which is up for auction, it will become a virtual monopoly.

Goel’s message is difficult to be missed: Keep Star India out of the IPL rights as it will lead to an absolute monopoly in cricket broadcasting, and TV channel distributors as well as consumers will end up paying more and more.

Goel’s tirade against Star India has come just ahead of the auction of the new cycle of IPL media rights and a day after the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of the private broadcaster and against pubcaster Prasar Bharati, which runs Doordarshan.

The TV distribution industry veteran pointed out that Star will air 71 per cent of the total matches played/to be played by India from 2012 to 2019. This, Goel said, excludes International Cricket Council (ICC) and Asian Cricket Council (ACC) matches in which India is a major participant country.

India will have played 270 matches during the period 2012–19. This means that telecast rights of as many as 191 matches are with Star only. In other words, out of 578 days when Team India is playing, Star alone will telecast the matches on 423 days, 73 per cent of the total number of days, Goel noted.

“Considering the fact that the figures mentioned above do not include the matches falling under the ICC events and Asia Cup events, in both of which India is a participant country and for both of which the distribution rights are held by Star, the actual figures are much higher than the above mentioned figures,” he said in the letter.

The sports broadcast market has become a duopoly with Star India and Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) being the main players. SPNI, which is the incumbent IPL TV rights holder for South Asia, had last year acquired Ten Sports Network from ZEEL for $385 million.

Quoting BARC India data, Goel contended that Star channels had a reach of 71% during the time of the Champions Trophy, whereas Sony Pictures had a reach of 88% during IPL. In a situation where Star also has the rights to the IPL, its channels’ reach would have gone up to approximately 85%, he added.

“Once this happens, this would enable Star to exorbitantly price their sports channels and would also result in Star being able to extort very high advertisement rates, which is estimated to be in the range of about Rs 2050 crore and would constitute about 93% of total advertisement revenue earned by all sports channels in India,” he stated.

Goel’s concern about monopoly in sports broadcasting has heightened as the Supreme Court has barred Prasar Bharati from airing sports content under mandatory sharing on private cable TV and DTH platforms.

Prasar Bharati can air events of national importance like India cricket only on its terrestrial and DTH platforms. Its free DTH platform Freedish reaches 22 million homes.

While the implementation of this order remains a grey area, there is a concern in the TV distribution fraternity that the move will give Star the flexibility to extract more subscription revenue from multi-system operators (MSOs) and DTH service providers.

Currently, India cricket is available freely on Doordarshan’s DD National, which is also a ‘must carry’ channel by law. The mandatory sharing of sports content which is then distributed by DD across the country through DD National has muted Star’s ability to charge subscription fee from customers as there is no exclusivity of content.

Goel also pointed out that Tata Sky, an associate of Star, has moved the Delhi High Court against TRAI’s tariff order and interconnection regulations, which among other things have put a cap of Rs 19 on channel pricing. Star has also challenged the tariff order and regulations in the Madras High Court, which has reserved its judgment.

“It is clear and apparent that the entire modus operandi of Star is to somehow get the pricing regulations quashed so that it can charge high subscription prices for its sports channels containing cricket content. Needless to mention that this again is an effort by Star to further strengthen the concentration of economic power onto itself and to remove competition from the industry,” Goel said.

He also alleged that Star is making subscribing to its sports channels as a precondition for availing any other channel of Star. “This would sound the death kneel for all other sports channels operating in India and is blatantly anti-competitive. The picture that emerges from the above clearly indicates that, with the blessing of the BCCI, the growth of Star has been exponential capturing all the rights to all the cricketing events to be shown in India except for lone event of the IPL,” Goel complained.

Goel has urged the BCCI to safeguard and protect the competition in the industry, as well as to prevent the creation of any kind of monopoly to the detriment of public interest.

“The acquisition of the IPL telecast rights by Star would lead to a situation where there will be an absolute monopoly, thereby leading to dominance by Star in the field of cricketing telecast rights where Star will not only compel the distributors of TV channels such as the DTH operators to pay exorbitant price for their channels but also make the ultimate consumers to shell more and more money from their pockets. Such a situation would not only be anti-competitive but also anti-consumers as well,” he stated.

Click here to read letter of Jawahar Goel