Victory for cricket rights holders as SC upholds HC verdict

NEW DELHI: In a judgment that will have significant positive implications on subscription revenues for sports rights holders, the Supreme Court has upheld a Delhi High Court verdict of 2015 that barred Prasar Bharati from sharing with cable operators, through Doordarshan (DD) channels, the live feed of cricket matches of which private broadcasters have exclusive rights to.

The apex court ruled Wednesday that the public broadcaster can air live feed of sporting events of national importance that it gets from private sports broadcasters only on its terrestrial network and own DTH (direct to home) platform, Freedish. 

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.

The ruling means the pubcaster cannot share the feed it gets from rights owners such as Star on Doordarshan channels that have to be compulsorily carried by all cable and DTH companies but will instead have to create a dedicated channel exclusively for its terrestrial network that it can also position on Freedish.

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 judgment.

Reacting to the adverse ruling, Prasar Bharati chief executive Shashi Shekhar Vempati told Mint the pubcaster was “studying the verdict” and would take “appropriate measures”.

For the record, Star India Pvt. Ltd and ESPN Software India Pvt. Ltd intervened in the case in 2013. The original case was filed in 2007 by Nimbus Communications Ltd and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

PTI quotes the Bench as stating the following While delivering its verdict: “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.

“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 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.