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'Landmark' Doordarshan sports broadcast rights decision: Saikrishna, Amit Sibal in Delhi HC win for ESPN, Star, BCCI [READ JUDGMENT]

Saikrishna & Associates advised ESPN Software and Star India in winning a Delhi high court decision yesterday that state broadcaster Prasar Bharti could only air on terrestrial TV (but not on cable), the footage of sporting events that other broadcasters and content owners have to share with Prasar Bharti by law.

Under the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007, content owners such as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), must share feeds of sporting events of national importance with Prasar Bharti.

The private companies and the BCCI objected to Prasar Bharti also broadcasting such feeds on cable TV, arguing that this severely reduced content owners' or licensees' ability to monetise content which they may have licensed exclusively for cable networks, yet might be shown on Doodarshan at the same time.

Under section 8 of the Cable Television Networks Act, cable and DTH operators have to compulsorily carry Doordarshan.

A lawyer involved in the case for one of the companies commented that this was a landmark decision. “The judgement will likely re-open the entire sports broadcast rights for monetisation and allow broadcasters who invest in events as they can now monetise these rights more effectively.”

Saikrishna partners Saikrishna Rajagopal and Sidharth Chopra, with senior associate Senha Jain and associate Savni Dutt, having briefed senior advocates Sudhir Chandra Aggarwal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, acted for ESPN and Star.

Senior advocate Amit Sibal with advocates Radha Rangaswamy, Prateek Chadha, Amrinder Singh and Raman Kumar appeared for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which also contested Prasar Bharti's ability to run cricket events on Doordarshan's cable channels.

Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad with advocates with advocates Rajeeve Sharma, Jitin Chaturvedi and Uddyam Mukherjee acted for Prasar Bharti, India’s largest public broadcaster that runs Doordarshan TV networks and All India Radio.

Advocate Jatan Singh acted for the government.

The BCCI and Nimbus Communications had filed a letters patent appeal (LPA) in the Delhi high court against its May 2011 order in which it had dismissed their writ seeking directions to Prasar Bharti to encrypt Doordarshan’s live-broadcast satellite signals transmitted throughout India.

The appellants wanted the court to declare that Prasar Bharti had exclusive rights to broadcast live signals of sporting events shown by Prasar Bharti but that private networks could not broadcast such events without a separate licence from the content owners.

ESPN and Star joined the BCCI’s LPA and won an order from the Delhi high court court yesterday that Prasar Bharti can air the feed it gets from private sports broadcasters such as Star and ESPN, only on its terrestrial network.

However, Prasar Bharti cannot share the signal on the Doordarshan channels on cable, decided the bench of justices BD Ahmed and Vibhu Bakhru:

“It would be evident that the object of simultaneous sharing of the live broadcasting signal with Prasar Bharati is only to enable them (Prasar Bharati) to re-transmit the same on its terrestrial networks and DTH (direct to home) networks. Strictly speaking, these networks have to be those of Prasar Bharati and not of private cable network operators.”

The case was filed when Nimbus had the broadcast rights for all series organized by BCCI but these rights are now with Star, reported Mint.

Prasar Bharti v Star / BCCI exclusivity

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