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Giving DD rights of way in sports coverage is just not fair

17-June-2002
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Giving DD rights of way in sports coverage is just not fair

The government may consider Prasar Bharati’s request on sharing of telecast rights with private channels for terrestrial coverage, according to sources. This is following Prasar Bharati’s recent announcement that it would request the government to make it mandatory for private television channels (with telecast rights to significant sport events) to share their signal with Doordarshan (DD) for terrestrial coverage.

But, there’s hardly any case anywhere else in the world, where a government has a say on sport telecast rights, unless it’s the like of Asian Games, Olympics or the Wimbledon. For others such as World Cup Cricket or FIFA World Cup football, governments round the world do not have a role in deciding who gets the telecast rights. According to a top official of new sports channel ‘‘The Indian Government could possibly choose to impose an obligation on Indian sports federations, but for it to legislate on sports rights of events that happen outside the country would be very difficult.’’

The Communications Convergence Bill already has a provision for giving preferential treatment to the public broadcaster, that is DD, including on the issue of terrestrial telecast rights.

Although it’s the failure of Doordarshan to show the ongoing FIFA World Cup live that has sparked this debate, government interference in this issue is not common anywhere else, say broadcasters. Take for instance, the case of the UK, a soccer-centric country.

In the UK, BBC Sport and ITV jointly bought the rights to telecast the matches of FIFA World Cup. Initially, the two broadcasters had disagreements as to who’ll show which matches, as both wanted to show England matches first, according to a BBC insider. But they resolved the differences much before the World Cup was kicked off. More importantly, the British government had nothing to do with it.

The official admits that it is important that everyone has access to the biggest sports events, ‘‘but as someone in the sports business I know that the money raised by telecast rights is also one of the prime movers in making the events happen,’’ he said.

In the context of telecast rights, an official at Star said: ‘‘The market should have a much more efficient mechanism than bureaucracy.’’ Pointing out that the escalating sports rights have caused the collapse of two pay TV platforms in Europe—UK’s ITV Digital and Spain’s Quiero TV—the adjustment is happening, the official said.

Commenting on the global scene, the official from the new sports channel said there’s hardly any instance of the government asking private broadcasters, who’ve paid for the telecast rights, to share their signals with public broadcaster for significant events like World Cup Cricket and World Cup Football. Talking of the US, UK and European markets.

Stressing the role of market, the Star official said: ‘‘In open markets such as the US, UK, etc, the government has no direct role in the process.’’ Their general position is that it’s a commercial activity and the market should decide.

There are exceptions such as China, however. ‘‘In some countries such as China where broadcasters are state-owned, the government has a role in it,’’ the Star official said. In China, only the national broadcaster, CCTV, can get the rights to international games. Other provincial stations are not allowed to get involved.

Also, some sports federations set the rules of bidding themselves. For instance, in the case of Olympic Games, the IOC takes the view that Olympics is an international/national event and as such Olympic rights are restricted to terrestrial stations. So, it’s a decision by the game organiser rather than any government per se.

In the case of World Cup football, FIFA invites bids from terrestrial and pay TV operators alike. However, as per FIFA norms, terrestrial TV must have the rights to the opening match, the semi-finals and final. On the other hand, tennis has gone for a mix of terrestrial and pay TV coverage to meet the combined demand for exposure and collecting higher rights fees, said the Star official.

Source: Financial Express

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