Even when the government legislated mandatory sharing of sports feed a decade ago, that was unfair to private broadcasters. They were, after all, spending good money to buy exclusive rights in the hope of getting both better subscription revenues and better advertisement revenues. Under the mandatory sharing, however, private broadcasters lost their exclusivity for matches in which India was playing since this had to, mandatorily, be simultaneously shared with Doordarshan as it was a sporting event of ‘national importance’—instead of paying a higher subscription fee to these channels, viewers could watch the India matches for free on Doordarshan and advertisers could negotiate with Doordarshan instead of the private broadcaster. As for Doordarshan, this was nothing but a free ride, since it got to keep a fourth of the advertisement revenue it generated—three-fourths was given to the private broadcaster.
If this wasn’t bad enough, according to reports, the government is now planning to extend this to IPL matches as well, given their rising popularity. So, while Star India may have paid Rs 16,347 crore for TV and digital rights for the next five IPL seasons—Sony Pictures held them till now—it now stands to lose a substantial chunk of its potential revenues; and unlike the T-20s and other matches where the sharing applied only to India’s matches, this will apply to the entire IPL series. Worse, if the government had made such sharing mandatory before the bidding, bidders would have factored this in—in which case, this is even more unfair. Nor is it clear on what grounds this can be justified. In the case of the India series in cricket, it could be argued that the team represented all of India—not just BCCI—so citizens of the country had the right to watch these free.
This argument, however, can’t possibly apply to the IPL where each player is bought on auction by various franchisees. While this will also have a big impact on sports where broadcast rights are the biggest source of revenues, the principle of mandatory sharing gets a bit fuzzy here. Since IPL feed wouldn’t have been mandatorily shared if it hadn’t been so popular, this means it is really paying a price for its wide appeal and great marketing. If this is the case, does it mean any programme or show has to mandatorily be shared with Doordarshan the moment it gets popular?