Select IPL matches on Doordarshan after government request

IPL rights holder Star India has allowed India’s free-to-air national television channel, Doordarshan, to broadcast select matches on a delayed feed, at the Indian government’s request.

After an informal agreement was reached on Thursday, Doordarshan will telecast the 8pm match on Sundays during the league phase of the IPL, the four knockout matches and the final, as well as the tournament opener. The games will be delayed by one hour on Doordarshan.

The development is significant because Star had no obligation to allow Doordarshan any sort of IPL telecast, having bid a record $2.55 billion for the global television and digital rights between 2018 and 2022. The deal with the BCCI in September 2017 was the largest media-rights sale ever in cricket.

In November 2017, Star received a request from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry of the Indian government headed by Smriti Irani, a television actor who had worked for Star before becoming a politician. According to a person privy to the discussions, the I&B ministry initially asked that the live feed be shared with Doordarshan so that “poor people” could watch the IPL in India. Star declined that request immediately.

Star also refused another I&B ministry request to share the feed with a delay of 15 minutes, before agreeing to share the feed for the tournament opener, four other play-off matches, and the final with a 15-minute delay. Finally, on Thursday, when Star won the rights to Indian cricket as well, the present agreement with the I&B ministry was reached.

Under India’s Sports Broadcasting Signals Act, 2007, broadcasters had to share the feed of only sporting events of national importance with Doordarshan: in cricket, all limited-overs matches involving India, at home and away. The Act also states that the advertising revenue Doordarshan earns from these games should be shared with the rights holder in a 3:1 ratio.

In the agreement reached this week, Star asked Doordarshan to market the matches it would broadcast on its own and split the advertisement revenue equally.

“This brings #IPL2018 content to Doordarshan for the first time,” Shashi Shekar, director of Prasar Bharati, the parent organisation of Doordarshan, said on Twitter. “Thanks to HMIB @Smriti Irani and Secy@MIB_India for the initiative and support.” Irani responded saying she was “glad to be of help.”

Historically, Star had argued that it shouldn’t have to share rights with Doordarshan. In the early 2000s, the I&B ministry made it mandatory for cable and direct-to-home (DTH) operators to have Doordarshan on their platforms. Star argued it was losing revenue because Doordarshan was benefitting from the shared feed under the Sports Act by beaming the same games on PayTV.

In 2015, the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of Star, but the I&B ministry challenged the decision in the Supreme Court of India, which said the government could seek games of national importance for people who could not afford cable and DTH. The court said the I&B ministry had to ensure the feed could not be put on PayTV channels.

A bigger concern for Star is whether the I&B ministry might consider including the IPL among sporting events of national importance. However, not everyone in the Indian government agreed that it should: Sports Minister Rajvardhan Singh Rathore, an Olympian, among them.

“If IPL is made mandatory, which is a private league, then what about the other leagues? Would they also be made mandatory?” Rathore said at the ‘Idea Exchange’ chat organized by Indian Express recently. “Secondly, the Sports Ministry wants federations to be financially independent. Not all leagues are making millions but some of the sports federations have managed to make some profits. But if we were to make the DD telecast mandatory would it not affect their profits? Thirdly, we need to keep in mind that the athletes here are not playing for the country, they are playing for their own clubs. All these issues need to be considered before we take a decision.”

Another change Irani made after taking charge at the I&B ministry was to introduce a processing fee – INR 1 lakh per day per channel – for the satellite up-linking license. Star will broadcast the IPL on 12 of its channels, so will pay a huge amount for 60 days.

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