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Ad-free feed or no Pak series telecast: DD

New Delhi, Nov. 29: Prasar Bharati has refused to beam this winter’s much-awaited India-Pakistan cricket series unless the government steps in and resolves a dispute with broadcast rights holder ESPN over “clean feed” free of pop-up ads.

Under the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing With Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007, broadcast rights holders must share live feed of all “sporting events of national importance” with Prasar Bharati, to be shown on Doordarshan (DD).

In return, the marketing revenue that Prasar earns from the coverage is shared 25:75 with the broadcast rights holder, the latter getting the lion’s share.

However, ESPN has informed Prasar that the shared feed for the Indo-Pak series will have embedded commercials — ads that pop up on a part of the screen during play, as opposed to the commercials shown during ad breaks.

ESPN has told Prasar that the spots for the embedded commercials have been sold not by the broadcaster but by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Prasar’s problem is that advertisers who have bought these pop-up spots will not want to again buy conventional ad space with the national broadcaster, hitting its revenues.

“We were told at the last moment that the match feed would have embedded commercials. They did not even tell us where the advertisements are embedded and who the advertisers are. So, we will have to market these matches blindfolded,” a senior DD official said.

Prasar told the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry on Tuesday that unless the matter is resolved, it will not telecast the two T20 and three ODI matches Pakistan will play in India between December 25 and January 6. This will be the first bilateral cricket series between the neighbours since 2007.

“This problem of embedded commercials first came up during the (September-October) ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka,” the DD official said.

Prasar has taken ESPN to court over the Sri Lanka tournament, arguing that the 2007 act says the national broadcaster should be provided “clean feed”. ESPN claims cricket’s world governing body ICC had marketed the spots for the pop-up ads for the World T20.

ESPN is the broadcast rights holder also for the upcoming India-England T20 and ODI matches, and has told Prasar that the BCCI has sold spots for embedded commercials for these games too. Prasar will telecast these matches.

DD officials explained how embedded commercials hurt the national broadcaster. Since the broadcasting rights holder stands to receive 75 per cent of the ad revenues from the DD telecast of shared feed, it bids competitively with DD for the marketing rights.

DD had won the marketing rights for the ICC World T20 by bidding of Rs 20 crore before realising there would be embedded commercials. Eventually, officials say, they managed to get advertisements worth just a little over Rs 17 crore but had to shell out Rs 15 crore (75 per cent of the agreed Rs 20 crore) to ESPN, leaving the national broadcaster with just about Rs 2 crore.

“We knew there were broadcast rights holders, but now we see a new tribe of broadcast rights creators: bodies like the BCCI and the ICC. We cannot risk the taxpayer’s money to play games with them,” Prasar CEO Jawahar Sircar told The Telegraph.

Prasar has not directly spoken to the BCCI but asked the I&B ministry to ensure these cricketing bodies are brought under the 2007 act.

“The BCCI and the ICC should be brought under the ambit of the act, otherwise the public broadcaster will be a sitting duck,” Sircar said.

“It seems ESPN and the other broadcasters are rather at peace with them (BCCI and ICC); they never objected to these (embedded) commercials. We cannot subject viewers to two parallel advertisements.”

The 2007 act was notified when Priya Ranjan Das Munshi was the I&B minister. Earlier this month, the Prasar board requested the ministry to amend the act and provide for 60:40 revenue-sharing, saying 75:25 is an unfair arrangement.

“We should get at least 40 per cent of the revenue. A match takes 7-8 hours and if in that time we broadcast something else, we can earn more advertising revenue because we need not share it,” the DD official said.