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Nimbus letter jolt to Pawar

New Delhi, March 6: Nimbus today shook things up at the Indian cricket board, asking it to intervene in the row over sharing telecast rights with Doordarshan.

Nimbus Communications sent a letter to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), triggering speculation that it was threatening to pull out of the Rs 2700-crore deal signed between the two last year.

A meeting of BCCI office-bearers followed late this evening at the Delhi home of board president Sharad Pawar. After some time, Nimbus chief Harish Thawani, too, joined the meeting.

Thawani later told reporters that there was no threat of a pullout in the letter. But, ominously, he referred to that as an “option” that Nimbus was not exercising right now.

Before the meeting began, Pawar, too, said there had been no pullout threat but added that “some concerns” were expressed in the Nimbus letter.

Nimbus’s main concern is over the telecast being shown on Doordarshan’s direct-to-home (DTH) service.

BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla said after the meeting that the DTH issue was a concern and the board would try to settle the matter.

Nimbus feels that Doordarshan’s DTH signals get picked up by channels in India and abroad. Thawani said DTH was for the rich, a reference to the government’s contention that private broadcasters must share sports telecast with DD as the public broadcaster served common people who did not have access to cable television.

Nimbus had suggested that the signals be encrypted so that only Doordarshan’s terrestrial channels — those received through roof-top antennae — get it, keeping out DTH.

Doordarshan has no objection to keeping DTH out but it has been claiming that the technical task of encrypting the signals is not easy.

The information and broadcasting ministry had set up a technical committee to look into the issue. Nimbus representatives are on it.

The February 2006 deal with BCCI had given Nimbus — which owns Neo Sports channel — “exclusive” rights to broadcast all board-organised events in India till 2010.

Nimbus wasn’t too keen to share live feed with Prasar Bharati. Sharing meant losing ad revenue.

But Prasar invoked the ministry’s guidelines that said private broadcasters must share live feed of sports events of “national importance” with the public broadcaster.

Last month, an ordinance was promulgated, giving more legal teeth to the guidelines. Nimbus has challenged the ordinance in court.

A bill has also been introduced in Parliament during the budget session. Changes can be made while passing the bill.

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