That the government wants its share of the multi-million-dollar sports telecast pie is no secret. But with private broadcasters often challenging it in court, and the latter not always ruling in the government's favour, a law may now be passed to ensure the broadcasters are forced to give in.
The I&B Ministry has firmed up the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharti) Bill that will come before the cabinet shortly. Once it becomes law, broadcasters will have to share live feeds of major sporting events with Prasar Bharti — on conditions determined by the government.
The ministry and Prasar Bharti have often defended such laws, maintaining the UK and Australia have similar legislation. But broadcasters are not convinced. RC Venkatesh, MD, ESPN Software India, told HT that sharing of live feed was "against the interest of both viewers and broadcasters".
According to Venkatesh, the UK law is 50 years old, and the government has gradually pruned the list of events covered by this provision. And Australia has a pay-channel cable penetration of just about 25 per cent.
"We have also had a tariff freeze from 2003 and a ceiling fixed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India that limits a pay-channel subscription at Rs 5, of which the channel gets just Rs 2.40. On top of that, we are told to share feed with DD, on conditions that do not make commercial sense," Venkatesh said.
In November 2005, the ministry had introduced a rule under uplinking guidelines, which would have forced channels to share feeds with Prasar Bharti. The private channels went to court, and won.