DD has no original content, no team, no production quality, and now they are finding ways to avoid sharing revenue, complains sports channel

Prasar Bharati’s new “minimum effort, maximum reward” strategy may not be a sustainable revenue model, but the national broadcaster claims it has “beaten the private broadcasters at their own game”.

According to Doordarshan officials, Television Rating Points (TRPs) showed Champions Trophy matches enjoyed the highest viewership. And the “trick”, it says, was simple. After years, Indian viewers could watch “advertisement-free” cricket matches.

Corporate calculations

But the decision to show ad-free matches was driven by a set of complex corporate calculations, as The Hindu has now learnt. In a letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar has explained the circumstances.

The 2007 Sports Broadcasting Act compels all channels to share “live signals of sporting events of national importance” with DD, without “pre-inserted ads”. ESPN Star Sports, which is in the process of becoming a part of Star India, however, said it would provide live signals to DD with embedded ads. DD refused to play ball, and the case went to court, which told ESPN to provide live signals without ads.

But since ESPN had not intimated DD about the tournament schedule 45 days in advance as mandated, DD says it was left with no time to “procure special ads”. DD could have shown its “pre-existing ads”, but it would have had to share 75 per cent of the ad revenue with the channel which provided the feed, as per the Act. This, PB felt, was “unfair”.

It was then that PB “took a call” to show ad-free matches. Mr. Sircar wrote to the Ministry, “We would not really lose much, because our own procured ads could always be shown on a later date and we would get 100 per cent of the committed ad sales revenue.”

With the high ratings, PB management feels “vindicated”.

A PB source told The Hindu: “With this, we have conveyed several messages to rivals. The first is not to mess around with us and take us to court, thinking we will back down. The second is not to try tricks like putting in embedded ads, which would fetch them revenue, and force it on us. The third is if you think our pre-existing ad bookings are reserved for you, you are mistaken. And the fourth, is we are bigger. As the ratings system gets de-skewed, people and advertisers will understand DD’s reach.”

In the corporate battle, viewers may have enjoyed ad-free cricket. But for how long remains open to question.

‘Unfair’

Private sports broadcasters are, however, unhappy.

ESPN Star Sports officials refused to comment on the record. But an executive said that they had not yet got the ratings, and ‘DD audiences and their audiences were different’.

An official with another sports channel was more forthcoming and said, “DD is violating provisions of the Act. They have no original content, no team, no production quality, and now they are finding ways to avoid sharing revenue.”

But PB officials said the problem was that the private broadcaster had not given the 45-day notice, and they would ‘revise their stance’ if the other side played according to ‘the rules of the game’.

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