The Delhi high court has ruled that Prasar Bharti can air the feed it gets from private sports broadcasters only on its terrestrial network in a move that should benefit companies such as Star India Pvt. Ltd.
Prasar Bharti cannot share the signal on Doordarshan channels that have to be compulsorily carried by cable and DTH operators, the court ruled.
The dispute, dating back to 2007, is between Prasar Bharati Broadcasting Corp., and sports broadcasters Nimbus Communications Ltd, ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd, Star India Pvt. Ltd and Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI).
The case arises from the conflict in implementation of two separate laws. One is the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007, which requires a broadcaster to compulsorily share the signals of sporting events of national importance with Prasar Bharati and the other is section 8 of the Cable Television Networks Act which makes it mandatory for all cable operators to carry two Doordarshan channels.
As a result of the signal sharing with Prasar Bharati, cable operators got access to the broadcast of sporting events through two different channels, one through the channels of ESPN/Star, for which they have to pay subscription fees and the other via the channels of Doordarshan which is free, leading to a loss in subscription and advertising revenues for ESPN/Star.
The court observed that “it would be evident that the object of simultaneous sharing of the live broadcasting signal with Prasar Bharati is only to enable them (Prasar Bharati) to re-transmit the same on its terrestrial networks and DTH (direct to home) networks. Strictly speaking, these networks have to be those of Prasar Bharati and not of private cable network operators.”
A bench of justices B.D. Ahmed and Vibhu Bakhru held that “the simultaneously shared live broadcasting signal can only be re-transmitted by Prasar Bharati without the intervention of a cable operator”.
Explaining the purpose of mandatory signal sharing with Prasar Bharati, the court said that it “is to provide access to the largest number of the viewers, on a free-to-air basis on sporting events of national importance”.
“It is essentially directed towards those citizens who do not have access to cable television and only have access to the terrestrial and DTH networks of Prasar Bharati”, the judgement adds. The court also took into account the huge broadcast rights fees that private broadcasters such as Star pay BCCI.
The court said that the interplay between the provisions of the two laws has to be read in such a manner that the shared live broadcasting signal, which Prasar Bharati receives shall not be carried in the designated Doordarshan channels under the must carry obligation.
“The Hon’ble High Court has only affirmed what the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 always stated i.e. that broadcasters should share live signals of events of national importance with Prasar Bharati for Prasar Bharati to make it available to viewers of its terrestrial platform and its DTH platform. There is no change in law as a result of this. Star has always complied with the Act and been respectful of its public interest objective. However, the implementation of this Act till now was flawed as these events of national importance were available to private cable and DTH operators as well. The Hon’ble High Court has only held that this is incorrect per the Act and should not be the case going forward,” a Star India spokesperson said.
Prasar Bharati executives could not be reached for a comment.
The case was filed when Nimbus had the broadcast rights for all series organized by BCCI. These rights are now with Star.Source: Livemint.com