The Information and Broadcasting Minister’s recent announcement of a proposed legislation making it mandatory for private broadcasters to share content with Prasar Bharti – especially sports and cricket – has triggered alarm bells among private broadcasters.
To mark their concern, heads of private channels came together on July 14 to participate in CII’s Broadcast Media Discussion Series on ‘Sports Broadcasting and Content Sharing: A Reality Check’.
While the private broadcasters strongly feel there is no need for such legislation, Navin Kumar, Director General, Doordarshan, has a different view. “We can think of a commercial arrangement where both parties can benefit by having a clearly defined business model with transparency in revenue sharing arrangements. We had worked out an arrangement with ESPN-STAR Sports last year and it worked out well,” he said.
Gary Lovejoy, COO, Zee Sports, said, “Let it be a fair commercial market where all parties bid independently and whosoever wins the rights, takes it home.”
There were other issues that were brought to the surface as well. For instance, many broadcasters have invested in sports properties, and a mandatory clause would impact viability of acquired sports rights.
Questions were also raised on the participation of private broadcasters in bidding for future sports rights. “Why would private broadcasters bid for sports rights when they are pushed to share content with the public broadcaster. While the interests of Doordarshan’s (terrestrial) viewers have to be protected, it should also not go against fair business practice,” stressed R C Venkateish, MD, ESPN-STAR Sports.
Sports broadcasters have contributed significantly to the growth of sports across the world. In recent times, private broadcasters have begun to invest in domestic sports. Many broadcasters feel this trend may see reduction in value if they are pushed to share content. Further, sharing of rights may reduce property rights for sports federations.
Venkateish strongly felt that the legislation would not help the sports industry to develop as it made no commercial sense. “We stand to lose revenue in any case, and it is not a viable business model. However, we have partnered with DD Sports on various occasions and will continue to do so,” he said.
No concrete solutions were arrived at as there is still no clarity on certain issues. The government has highlighted games of national importance without identifying them. Clarity is also required on how the telecast fee or revenue sharing between the private broadcasters and the public service broadcaster would be determined. The broadcast industry leaders felt that policy makers should protect the rights of both public and private broadcasters alike as well as those of the viewers.
Everything said and done, it cannot be denied that the Indian broadcasting sector has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. And this has largely been possible due to the spirit of free market and minimal regulation by the government.