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ICC World Cup 2015: STAR misses out on 100 million potential viewers

The Supreme Court on Friday said public broadcaster Doordarshan (DD) could continue sharing the live feed of cricket World Cup 2015 for the India matches, semi-finals and final with private cable operators.

The apex court continued its stay on the Delhi High Court verdict allowing the plea of STAR India, which has exclusive telecast rights for the World Cup, to restrain Prasar Bharati from sharing the feed with private cable operators. The apex court said the high court order would remain suspended until further orders and posted the matter for final hearing in July, well after the World Cup ends.

“We are of the view the interim order passed earlier to the effect that the impugned order dated February 4, 2015, of the high court shall remain suspended should continue until further orders. We order accordingly,” said a bench of judges Ranjan Gogoi and Prafulla C Pant.

According to industry estimates, STAR’s sports channels would have gained 25 million households (on digital cable and direct-to-home platforms) – or 100 million viewers – during the two months the World Cup goes on had the feed of the tournament remained exclusively on its network. The network is present in 140-150 million households (on digital cable and direct-to-home platforms) in India. These 100 million viewers will now come to DD via private cable operators. In the 2011 ICC World Cup, a fifth of the total viewership of the tournament’s India matches came from DD. This year, too, a fourth to fifth of the viewership will come from the Prasar Bharati feed.

Industry estimates said STAR would lose about Rs 120 crore because of loss in subscriptions and advertising. “They have made a simple calculation. At Rs 16 a month a subscriber, the network believes it would have had 25 million more subscribers to its sports channels during the World Cup if DD did not share the feed with private cable operators. Thus, the estimates of loss to subscription revenues would be about Rs 80 crore,” said a source.

STAR will also lose out on advertising revenue since the feed will now be available on Doordarshan. “The audience DD caters to and the audience that STAR carters to are different. Hence, the network’s argument is the profile (and consequently, the rates) of the advertisers on the World Cup has been affected,” revealed another person in the know. Estimates peg this ad revenue loss at Rs 40 crore.

STAR India won the rights to broadcast the ICC tournaments for 2007-2015 at a total cost of Rs 6,751 crore. In the court, the network argued allowing Prasar Bharti to share the feed with the private cable operators would dent its revenues from the premium sports property, in which it had made huge investment. The company, which got 100 million viewers in the first two matches, expects viewership hit about 300 million for the India-Pakistan match. The STAR sports channels are available in about 110 million households across the country.

The Supreme Court interim order certainly comes as relief for private cable operators. “The Delhi High Court had reserved the order for almost a year and suddenly, 10 days before the tournament started, it passed the order disallowing Prasar Bharti from sharing the feed with private cable operators. It was out of the blue. As a result of this judgment, we will be able to get subscription revenue for the DD ICC matches, which we were being deprived of earlier,” said Vikki Choudhry of the Delhi-based Home Cable Network.

Another sports broadcaster said, “This is something that needs to be addressed. Let’s face it, DD will never be able to shoulder the cost of acquiring, producing and marketing sports events of this scale. So, it’s the private broadcasters who will bring the investment and such things will only prove as impediments in the overall sports broadcast environment of the country.”

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre and Prasar Bharati, had told the court it was mandatory for a private channel under the sports and cable TV networks laws to share the feeds of matches of “national importance” with Prasar Bharati, so that it could provide it on DD’s free-to-air terrestrial channels.

Prasar Bharati had moved the Supreme Court, challenging the February 4 Delhi High Court judgment that was passed on a plea from the Board of Control for Cricket in India, ESPN and STAR. STAR had contended cable operators were getting live feed free through DD channels, resulting in loss of revenue for it.

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