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Rush to snatch match for DD

New Delhi, Feb. 1: Let parents wait for years for news of their missing children — but the government will not tolerate it if cricket fans have to wait seven minutes to find out the score.

Showing unsuspected agility, the Union cabinet today cleared the proposal for an ordinance to force private channels with hard-won TV rights to share live sports feed with Doordarshan.

A stopgap before a bill is tabled in the budget session, the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Ordinance, 2007, is expected to be promulgated by the President in the next few days. That would be just in time for the India-Sri Lanka series, due to start on February 8.

The ordinance had become a must, I&B minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi explained, because not just the Lanka games but the World Cup was round the corner.

The live feed to be shared includes that of India’s ODI matches — wherever they are played — and Tests played in India. For Tests abroad, only the highlights must be shared.

The ordinance is meant to ensure that both DD’s terrestrial and direct-to-home (DTH) channels get the live feed and AIR can broadcast live commentary.

DD will get a clean feed —without advertisements. The rights owner will receive 75 per cent of the revenue DD makes by showing its own ads during the live telecast.

The new law comes amid a bitter spat — settled for now through an interim Delhi High Court order — between rights holder Nimbus Communications and Prasar Bharati over the just-ended India-West Indies series. The private channels’ grouse has been that sharing live feed leads to huge losses in ad revenues.

Ten Sports had taken the Centre to the Supreme Court over its downlink and uplink guidelines, whose content is roughly the same as that of the ordinance. The case is pending. The next hearing of Nimbus’s case in the high court is on February 8.

Naresh Chahal of Indian Broadcasting Foundation, which represents several private channels, said: “It (the ordinance) is very unfortunate.”

And although Nimbus head Harish Thawani welcomed it, saying having regulations was better than the current “arbitrary environment”, PTI said the company might move court if its live feed is shown on DD’s DTH service, too.

Das Munshi made a placatory gesture, saying a panel would look into the matter of signal encryption so that live feed shared with DD isn’t picked up illegally by foreign channels. But Nimbus had wanted encryption mainly to keep Doordarshan’s DTH out.

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