Public broadcaster Prasar Bharti on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it was not feasible for the government and the public broadcaster to run a new channel for exclusive broadcast of World Cup matches.
Attorney general (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Prasar Bharti, told the apex court that they were not in a position to create a separate channel as they had limited number of transmitters.
After hearing Rohatgi, the bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and Prafulla C Pant reserved its verdict on Prasar Bharti's plea against the Delhi high court order barring Doordarshan from sharing live feed of the World Cup cricket matches with private cable operators.
The AG told the bench that the public broadcaster has around 1400 transmitters across the country to cater to the entire population of India.
"Most of these transmitters were unmanned and located in remote corners of the country. So it is not feasible for them to create a separate channel," Rohatgi said.
He rejected the suggestion mooted by Star India to start a separate channel, saying "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.
Senior advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for Star India, said a similar situation had arisen at the time of Commonwealth Games in 2010. "If at that time a separate channel was created in six days, then why can't it be done now," he said.
"We can provide them the necessary help to create a separate channel and provide them technical assistance as well," he added.
Chidambaram further said the new channel can be carried out on the same frequency as that of Doordarshan with no additional cost involved.
He said the nine-ten matches which are yet to be telecast would attract nearly 70 per cent of viewership, as per TAM report.
Chidambaram told the court each subscriber would have to pay Rs 16 in terms of TRAI regulations for viewing the matches. "If nothing is done, this would lead to great losses which would amount to Rs 290 crores.
"An investor comes to this country with a hope that his contract will fetch him money. We have employed large number of people and cater to the needs of sport-lovers and if our estimated revenues are not achieved, we'll go broke. Private cable operators are being enriched for no reason," he said.
He further claimed that Prasar Bharti was "violating provisions of the Sports Act and they were taking my content and sharing it with others causing loss to us."
The bench then said, "Do not ask us to express opinion on the provisions of Sports Act. It is too premature. That is why we tried to work out equities" and added "we can do nothing at this stage."
Chidambaram also suggested that Prasar Bharti could create a replica channel with all DD programmes minus the matches and run a scroll in this regard.
The AG outrightly refused the suggestion saying "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."
In the last hearing, the apex court had asked the public broadcaster to respond to the suggestion that a new channel can be started by Prasar Bharti, as was done for CWG, for showing World Cup matches to ensure that private cable operators do not get the live feed.
The court had also asked Star India Ltd to give details of quantum of losses which it may incur on account of sharing of live feed of matches by Prasar Bharti to private cable operators.
Earlier, the public broadcaster had moved Supreme Court challenging the Delhi high court judgement.
The appeal was made against the February 4 judgement of the High Court which was passed on the plea of Board of Control for Cricket in India, ESPN and Star. They had contended that cable operators were getting live feed free through DD channels, resulting in loss of revenue for them.
The High Court had also observed that while advertisement revenue received by DD in respect of the shared content of the sports channels was to be shared in the ratio of not less than 75:25, "it still does not cater to the loss of subscription revenue" by ESPN and Star.