Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cricket telecast tamasha

It is totally inexplicable why a controversy over telecast is allowed to develop just before every major cricket series. Most of India missed the telecast of the first onedayer of the Windies series at Nagpur on Sunday. Today the Delhi High Court, in response to a petition moved by Nimbus, allowed Doordarshan to telecast matches with a 7-minute delay -- deferred live as they call it. This is only an interim measure; the next hearing is on Feb 8.

There is a serious issue of ownership of airwaves that needs to be settled once and for all. Is telecast of cricket matches of such national importance that the feed has to be made mandatorily available to all citizens of the country? If cricket telecast is so important, then why bring in bidding, and make it totally commercial? Are we getting our priorities wrong here?

Bidding for telecast is a very straightforward business deal. In the bidding in February last year, Nimbus paid the highest, $612, and got the telecast rights. Zee came second at $530 and ESPN $401. Interestingly, Prasar Bharati did not even participate in the bidding.

After all that, now the government, via Prasar Bharati, is apparently muddying a clearcut case by talking of national interest, public interest etc. It can't have the cake and eat it too. On the one hand it wants to literally cash in on the national passion for the game, pocket ad revenues, and on the other hand, it wouldn't even participate in bidding, forget paying up, and get the exclusive rights.

While keeping away from bidding, the government broadcaster was thinking in terms of getting a content-sharing agreement with the highest bidder. And, in typical govt style, forgot all about it, till the eve of the match. Knowing well that Nimbus is not a broadcasting company (it is a TV production company), Prasar Bharati should have worked out an arrangement with it well in time. But, Nimbus had other plans, as the launch of their Neo Sports channel illustrates.

It looks like there is a reason why PB did not bid. There is a clause which says that the private broadcaster in order to get uplinking facility should share the feed with the public broadcaster. PB says Nimbus had agreed to this. If Nimbus felt this was in violation of intellectual property rights and forceful acquisition of telecast rights, why it didn't go to court earlier? And, PB says Nimbus had agreed to this clause and did share feed during the England series last year.

Cricket is a national passion. It's a great unifying factor. But is it not just a game? Inability to see issues in the right -- real national -- perspective is a major problem. We need to set this right first.


  1. You are right. This sounds like kids fighting. Cricket broadcast is(why even cricket itself is..) pure business and there is a way to carry on the business. PB or Nimbus are not new business entities.

  2. We lack 'real perspective' in almost all issues. We typically miss the bus 'coz of it too.

    Good post!