The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rivals see strong arm in DD ‘public’ interest

Calcutta, July 25: It’s DD vs Rest of the Sports Broadcasters.

Usually bickering cricket broadcasters ' Ten Sports, ESPN STAR Sports, Zee Sports and Sony ' have ganged up against big brother Doordarshan for repeatedly grabbing a slice of their revenue pie in the name of “public interest”.

The four channels will tomorrow knock on the doors of the information and broadcasting ministry with an appeal that the national broadcaster be prevented from routinely arm-twisting them.

The immediate provocation is a request from DD to Ten Sports to share the beam for the tri-series between India, Sri Lanka and West Indies, which gets underway at Dambulla this Saturday. Ten holds the telecast rights for the tour.

DD claims the proposed arrangement is only fair on lakhs of television viewers who have access only to its terrestrial channels and not to satellite channels like Ten.

If the proposal clicks, Ten will have to pay DD a crore per match for carrying the feed, as is the industry practice. Ad revenues will be shared on an 80:20 basis, with Ten getting the lion’s share.

The Dubai-based channel has, however, refused to play ball as the arrangement will hit its revenues. Instead, it has offered to provide live coverage of the matches over low-power transmitters in non-cable areas.

But Prasar Bharati, which manages Doordarshan, is not game. “Cricket in India is not a commodity but an obsession,” DD director-general Navin Kumar said. “Thus, Ten Sports cannot treat cricket featuring the Indian team as exclusive.”

Such a telecast model would not even cover “five per cent of the population in remote areas”, he said. “Besides, Ten is asking us to carry its logo and ads. How can we, as a public broadcaster, extend such benefit to a private channel'”

Ten Sports managing director Sharmista Rijhwani trashed the “public interest” pitch. “DD had raised the same ‘national interest’ point during India’s visit to Pakistan. This series cannot be compared to that in any way.”

The broadcasters allege that though all boards under the International Cricket Council sold telecast rights under an “exclusive” tag, DD was repeatedly trying to break that.

“We are pumping in a lot of money to promote hockey in India, hoping for good revenues in the next few years,” said R.C. Venkateish, managing director of ESPN Software India.

“As soon as it becomes profitable, Doordarshan can make a similar demand for sharing feed, citing ‘national interest’. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

ESPN STAR Sports had faced the same problem during India’s tour of Bangladesh in December 2004. DD had then got its way.

The revenue dispute between Ten and DD over the Pakistan series is yet to be sorted out. “They have not paid a single rupee of the over Rs 100 crore amount they owe us,” Rijhwani alleged.

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