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MILLIONS of cricket lovers in non-cable households will now be able to watch the live-action of all one-day matches featuring the Indian cricket team, both in the country and abroad. The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the promulgation of an ordinance, making it mandatory for private broadcasters to share live feed (without advertisements) of all important sporting events with public broadcaster Prasar Bharati. They will also have to share the radio feed with All India Radio (AIR).
For test matches, private broadcasters will have to share live feed for matches played in India and highlights for those played abroad. Additionally, the finals of all international cricket tournaments would also have to be shared, even if India does not feature in them. Addressing media persons after the Cabinet meet, information and broadcasting minister PR Dasmunsi expressed the hope that the ordinance will be notified before the start of the coming India-Sri Lanka series on February 8.

Not surprisingly, this announcement has not gone down well with some private sports channels. A senior executive from SetMax, which holds the rights for the upcoming cricket World Cup, told ET that the Cabinet’s decision “would have a massive impact on their distribution revenues, especially considering that the rights were bought at a huge price”. Harish Thawani, chief executive of Nimbus, the company that owns the TV rights for cricket in India told a news agency: “I think the industry is waiting for the ordinance to come out and will respond after having a look at it”.

However, ESPN-STAR Sports India managing director RC Venkateish welcomed the ordinance and said the Cabinet decision has been able to bring clarity on what is to be shared and what’s not. “For whatever we share we keep 75% revenue. So it is a balanced decision keeping in mind the interests of both the public broadcaster and private broadcaster,” he said.

The ordinance comes following the recent tiff between the Nimbus and Prasar Bharati over sharing of feed for the just concluded India-West Indies one-day series. Following the intervention of the courts, Nimbus had agreed to share its feed with DD, but with a delay of seven minutes.

The government move would impact the revenue models of private broadcaster as they have purchased the telecast rights at very high costs. Nimbus paid $612 million to BCCI for exclusive broadcasting rights for India till 2010. ESPN-Star Sports had recently paid $1.1.5 billion to the International Cricket Council (ICC) for 18 tournaments, including two World Cups and three Champions Trophy.

Cricket apart, Mr Dasmunsi said the list of events that have to be shared would be specified after consultations with various sporting bodies in the country.

According to an official in the I&B ministry, the list of events for the sharing the feed were likely to include Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Afro-Asian Games.

In tennis, private operators may be mandated to share the finals of all tennis Grand Slam tournaments, and all matches featuring India and semi-finals/finals of the Davis Cup. For football, the feed for the semi-finals and finals of World Cup, European Cup and Asia Cup is likely to be in this list, in addition to domestic soccer tournaments such as Santosh Trophy, Federation Cup, Durand Cup, National Women Football Championship and the Junior National Football Championships, I&B ministry sources said. Similarly, sharing of feed semi-finals/finals is also likely to apply to the Hockey World Cup, Champions Trophy, Beighton Cup and the Indira Gandhi Gold Cup for Women, sources added.

In a bid to address the concerns of private operators, Mr Dasmunsi also said a technical committee would examine the issue of encrypting the signals being telecast by Doordarshan, in order to make this feed inaccessible to broadcasters outside the country. He, however, warned that encryption would not be possible immediately, while adding this would require a minimum of seven months to execute if the government were to implement it. “There are 1,400 centres where we have to encrypt. We have to see how to get equipment and how to go about the process,” he said.

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