The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B Ministry) is considering the prospect of including the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the list of ‘sporting events of national importance’, a decision that would ensure that the IPL will be broadcast on national broadcaster Doordarshan, and on All India Radio (AIR). In early September 2017, Star India Pvt. Ltd., had acquired the exclusive global television and digital broadcast rights to the IPL for a five-year cycle (2018-2022) for USD 2.55 billion.
The Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 (the “Act”), which was enacted to provide access to the largest number of listeners and viewers, on a free to air basis, to sporting events of national importance through mandatory sharing of sports broadcasting signal with Prasar Bharati. Section 2(1)(s) of the Act defines ‘sporting events of national importance’ as ‘national or international sporting events, held in India or abroad, as may be notified by the Central Government in the Official Gazette to be of national importance’.
The manner of declaration of ‘sporting events of national importance’ is provided in rule 6 of the Sports Broadcast Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Rules 2007 (the “Rules”). The list of sporting events of national importance is compiled by the I&B Ministry in consultation with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) and Prasar Bharati, as provided in sub-rule (1) of the aforementioned rule 6. Under Section 3(2)(1) of the Act, private broadcasters sharing their feed receive 50% of the radio advertising revenue, and 75% of television advertising revenue generated by the AIR and Prasar Bharati. Currently, in cricket, the I&B Ministry has notified cricket events such as official one-day and Twenty-20 matches played by the Indian men’s cricket team, the semi-finals and finals of the International Cricket Council’s men’s Cricket World Cup and Champions Trophy as ‘sporting events of national importance’.
The inclusion of the IPL in the list of ‘sporting events of national importance’ will have a crucial impact on the sports broadcasting industry in India. Any decision to include the IPL in the list of ‘sporting events of national importance’ is likely to be judicially challenged, and could result in two desirable outcomes - (i) prescription of an objective criteria for notifying any sports event as a ‘sporting event of national importance’, and (ii) clarification on whether private leagues/events such as the IPL can be considered ‘sporting events of national importance’.
Additionally, the I&B Ministry has imposed a fee of Rs 50,000 (on regional channels) and Rs 1 lakh (on national channels) per day for temporary up-linking of live events. This essentially means that broadcasters of sports leagues and other programmes that may be shown live on entertainment channels, will now have to pay Rs 50,000 or Rs 1 lakh per day, in line with the order from the ministry. This is likely to discourage smaller sports broadcasters, sports leagues and tournaments, and reduce the incentive for broadcasters to air such events live, or see a paradigm shift to broadcasting primarily on digital platforms only.