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Cricket World Cup: Prasar Bharati rejects Star offer, SC to pronounce order on Friday

NEW DELHI: Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati Thursday rejected Star India’s offer of carrying the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 feed on a separate channel, stating the move was not feasible.

The bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Prafulla C Pant will pronounce the verdict on Friday.

Appearing for Prasar Bharati, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the bench that in the short term a separate channel was not feasible because it has to be on a new frequency and there are many low-powered and unmanned transmitters located in remote corners of the country. These transmitters, Rohatgi contended, have to be equipped to receive the signals of the new frequency.

Appearing for Star India, senior advocate P Chidambaram argued that the new channel can be carried out on the same frequency as that of Doordarshan with no additional cost.

He also pointed out that the pubcaster had created a separate channel for the Commonwealth Games 2014 after objections were raised by rights-holder Ten Sports on similar grounds as Star India. He said that a similar situation has arisen and there is no reason why Prasar Bharati cannot do the same for the World Cup.

“If at that time a separate channel was created in six days, then why can’t it be done now? We can provide them the necessary help to create a separate channel and provide them technical assistance as well,” he said.

Rohatgi pointed out the CWG was aired on a DD News channel which has limited coverage; however, the same cannot be done overnight.

He also dismissed Chidambaram’s suggestion that Prasar Bharati must create a replica channel with all DD programmes minus the matches and run a scroll that no cable operator can carry this feed.

“We don’t want to do it at all. This is not required. Whose interest is being protected? The reach of matches should be for everybody,” Rohatgi stated.

Star pegs revenue loss at Rs 120 crore from WC

Chidambaram claimed that Star would suffer revenue loss of Rs 120 crore (Rs 1.2 billion), including Rs 80 crore (Rs 800 million) subscription revenue and Rs 40 crore (Rs 400 million) ad revenue, due to sharing of the World Cup feed with private distribution platforms.

He also stated that the broadcaster incurred an estimated loss of Rs 290 crore (Rs 2.9 billion) during the calendar year 2014, including Rs 230 crore (Rs 2.3 billion) from subscription and Rs 60 crore (Rs 600 million) from ad revenue.

At this point, the bench asked Chidambaram whether the broadcaster was not aware of Section 3 of the Sports Act while acquiring the rights.

Buttressing his point, Chidambaram said that the mandatory sharing is benefiting private cable operators at the expense of the official rights-holder.

“An investor comes to this country with a hope that his contract will fetch him money. We have employed a large number of people to cater to the needs of sport lovers. If our estimated revenues are not achieved, we will go broke. Private cable operators are being enriched for no reason,” he said.

Chidambaram alleged that Prasar Bharati was “violating provisions of the Sports Act and they were taking our content and sharing it with others causing loss to us”.

Rohatgi stated that the “law is for public good” and this was a dispute between Star India and cable operators. “Why should the people suffer? Everybody should get the opportunity to watch the matches,” he said.

The bench then observed, “Do not ask us to express opinion on the provisions of the Sports Act. It is too premature. That is why we tried to work out equities” and added “we can do nothing at this stage”.

Prasar Bharati had moved the Supreme Court on 9 February against the Delhi High Court’s order barring Doordarshan from carrying ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 feed on cable TV platforms.

In its petition, the pubcaster had contended that the Delhi HC order is virtually unworkable and is contrary to Section 3 of Sports Act and Section 8 of the Cable TV Networks Act.

The Delhi HC in its order dated 5 February stated that live broadcasting signal under the mandatory sharing act can only be re-transmitted by Prasar Bharati on its own networks.

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