Cricket Tests involving India will be sporting events of national importance, the union information and broadcasting ministry has said in a notification issued during the week. Under the Sports Broadcasting Signals (mandatory sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007, once matches are deemed to be of national importance, rights holders have to share the broadcast signals with Prasar Bharati, the public service broadcaster.
This will be in addition to all ODIs and T20Is featuring India, the semi-finals and final of the ODI World Cup, T20 World Cup, Champions Trophy, Asia Cup and the World Test Championship final, the notification said.
“We are thankful that the list has been clarified and revised. With Test matches gaining nationwide popularity, their inclusion in the list is reflective of the same,” Shashi Shekhar Vempati, Prasar Bharati CEO, said.
The issue of sports rights holders having to share feed—they get a proportionate ad revenue share from Prasar Bharati—has been contentious as broadcasters believe it dilutes exclusivity and return on investment. It becomes tricky for the Indian board (BCCI) too when media partners raise the issue during rights acquisition. The government’s reasoning behind sports sharing is to make live sport more accessible for those who cannot afford pay TV.
Such sport content, which includes Olympics, later stages of the football World Cup and tennis Grand Slams, is aired on Doordarshan’s Free Dish service, which has grown almost 100 %, from 22 million subscribers in 2017 to 43 million in 2022, according to the ministry. Vempati says “it would not be correct to attribute the growth of DD Free Dish to sharing of cricket matches” but it is rather due to “its unique free-to-air model and the public value delivered by educational and other infotainment channels.”
BCCI officials do not foresee a problem as Tests, though highly priced— Star pays ₹60 crore for an India Test—are less engaging and attract fewer viewers compared to T20Is and ODIs.
A BCCI official said they are fine as “IPL has been left alone” by the government. The Indian board expects record returns from its coming IPL media rights sale in the e-auction for which the collective (TV + digital) reserve price is pegged at ₹32,890 crore, double of what it currently gets from Star.
The IPL feed sharing issue had snowballed into a controversy in 2018 when the government wanted the rights holder (Star) to share live feed with Prasar Bharati. After winning the IPL rights for ₹16,347 crore, Star’s uplinking permit was delayed. The issue was resolved after Star agreed to share one match every week, the knockouts and the final, deferred by an hour. Star said it was doing it as ‘social responsibility’ and not ‘legal obligation’.
Asked if he was in favour of select IPL matches being shared with the public service broadcaster in future, Vempati said: “listing of sporting events of national importance is the prerogative of the government.”