New Delhi: The Supreme Court today morning ruled in favour of the public Broadcaster Doordarshan on sharing the feed of ICC world cup telecast signals with Cable operators. The verdict set aside the judgement of Delhi High Court, which was favoring the complainant ESPN Star Sports. Supreme Court in its judge read out today allowed DD to exploit the signals from ESPN Star Sports freely and also to share it with all the cable operators too.
The verdict is a set back for private broadcasters ESPN Star Sports as the same is likely to cause considerably revenue loss due to lack of monopoly control over the most happening sports event of the moment. However, the cable operators and public are rejoicing the verdict as they can avail the ICC world cup series freely.
The apex court dismissed the plea of Star Sports – the official broadcasters of the tournament in India – and said that Prasar Bharti can share the feed with cable operators. It also said that DD can share the free feed terrestrially but that cable operators have to carry DD channels by law and the cricket matches are shown live on these channels.
Earlier, on Thursday SC reserved its order on the issue of whether a temporary arrangement can be made during the 2015 Cricket World Cup for sharing match feed to balance claims made by Prasar Bharti and private broadcasters like Star India Pvt. Ltd and ESPN India.
The state-owned Prasar Bharti through attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told the court that it was not feasible to create an alternative DD channel to carry match feed for its terrestrial and DTH network, as it would have to be carried on a new frequency. This was one of the suggestions by Star to ensure that it didn’t lose subscriber revenue.
Lawyer P. Chidambaram said Star was set to lose Rs.290 crore subscription in 2014 for its channel and Rs 120 crore for the world cup, because Prasar Bharti shared Star’s match broadcast on its must-carry channels. Cable operators are required to carry two Doordarshan channels on their network as a must, and Prasar Bharti has the right to receive feed from private broadcasters for matches of national interest, which it can share on two notified channels. As a result, often, private cable operators can access these matches free of charge from the DD channels.
A bench headed by justice Ranjan Gogoi said that the court was looking to only balance the claims of the parties at an interim stage, and the appeal against the Delhi high court judgement would require further consideration.
The high court had directed that Prasar Bharti could only share the feed it got from private broadcasters on its terrestrial network, and not with private cable operators.
Chidambaram offered more alternatives after Rohatgi claimed that no new channel could be created. These included request for a ticker carrying the disclaimer that the match feed could not be carried by private cable operators or a replica channel of Doordarshan, without the match feed. Rohatgi said that a disclaimer of such nature would fall foul of the law.
Lawyer Amit Sibal, for the Board of Control for Cricket in India, said that there was private interest involved for both Prasar Bharti and ESPN/Star. Sibal argued that Prasar Bharti could retain 25% of the advertisement revenue through these matches, without paying any cost of the feed. He asked that the reasoning of the high court be retained.