Cricket Broadcasting Rights in India: SC Upholds HC Verdict

Press Trust of India
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New Delhi, Aug 22: The Supreme Court today upheld the Delhi High Court’s verdict barring Prasar Bharati from sharing with cable operators through Doordarshan (DD) channels the live feed of cricket matches of which private broadcasters ESPN and Star had the exclusive rights.

The bench said under the provision of the Sports Act, the live feed received by Prasar Bharati from content rights owners was only for the purpose of re-transmission of signals on its own terrestrial and direct-to-home (DTH) networks and not to cable operators.

A bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha dismissed the appeals of the Centre, Prasar Bharati, Home Cable Network Private Limited and Sopan Foundation and upheld the Delhi High Court’s February 4, 2015 judgement.

“We, therefore, come to the conclusion that under Section 3 of the Sports Act, 2007 the live feed received by Prasar Bharati from content rights owners or holders is only for the purpose of re-transmission of the said signals on its own terrestrial and DTH networks and not to cable operators so as to enable the cable TV operators to reach such consumers who have already subscribed to a cable network.

“For these reasons, all the appeals will have to fail. They are accordingly dismissed. The judgement and order of February 4, 2015 passed by the high court is affirmed,” the apex court said.

It observed that if there has to be a national game in India, cricket would certainly be a front-runner and the live telecast of the cricketing events, domestic and international, is beamed to millions of homes in the country.

“The precise origin of the game of cricket, though largely unknown, has been traced, at least, to late 15th century England. With the expansion of British empire the game of cricket travelled to different parts of the globe including India.

“Today, if there has to be a national game in India, cricket would certainly be a front-runner. The packed stands in all cricketing venues are certainly not the full picture. Live telecast of all major cricketing events, domestic and international, is beamed to millions of homes in the country,” it said.

The bench said that telecasting or broadcasting rights are leased out by the organising body i.E. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) through competitive bidding and these live feeds are transmitted to millions of Indian homes by Doordarshan, cable operators and DTH operators.

“The rights of these entities in respect of the live telecast of major cricketing events in the country and the consequential revenue implications are the core issues arising in these groups of appeals…,” it said.
The bench noted that BCCI is the approved national level body holding virtually monopoly rights to organise cricketing events in the country and grant of telecasting rights of these events is, therefore, a major source of revenue for it.

It said a media rights agreement is currently in force between Star India Private Ltd and BCCI effective from April 2012 till March 2018 under which Star India has been granted exclusive rights to telecast cricketing events that take place in the country during this period.

Star India has, in turn, engaged ESPN Software Pvt Ltd, for distribution of the telecast of all cricketing events covered by this agreement.

ESPN and Star had earlier contended that cable TV operators were getting live feeds through DD channels free of cost, resulting in loss of revenue for them.

The Centre, however, had said that the possible loss of revenue arising to the content rights owners or holders due to the mandatory requirement of sharing live feeds with Prasar Bharati has been adequately taken care of by the scheme of arrangement of revenue in the Sports Act, 2007.