Although, the IPL auctions were held on 04 September and it is STAR India who won the IPL global media rights from 2018-2022 with a bid worth Rs 16347.50 crore, the issues raised by Jawahar Goel in his letter are worth consideration.
In the complaint, (a copy of which is with Cable Quest) he has pointed at certain issues arising out of forthcoming auction of IPL cricketing telecast rights which would not only result in lot of competition issues in the broadcasting and distribution sector but is also likely to cause severe prejudice to the consumers in so far as cost of accessing cricketing content on television is concerned. According to him, if these issues are not addressed immediately, the cost for the consumers is likely to increase manifold because of the creation of 'sole supplier' monopoly in the market.
Cricket popularity in India grew manifold with India's World Cup victory in 1983 and has become so popular that it is now considered to be a religion in India. With increasing popularity and high demand, the number of events and series also grew over a period of time and from a time when there was only bilateral and a single World Cup tournament, today there are various cricket events like ICC World T20, ICC Champions Trophy, Indian Premier League, Asia Cup etc.
With more and more cricketing events taking place, the number of sports channels have also increased and the sports channels have got much higher ratings as compared to channels of other genres. With more eyeballs onto the sports, the advertisement revenue was also destined to increase manifold giving huge revenue to Broadcast Right Holders as well as BCCI. Further, with huge revenue towards distribution rights for covering Television, Internet and Mobile, BCCI today is the biggest cash rich body in any sporting event in the entire world. It is a matter of record that BCCI media rights covering Television, Internet and Mobile for the period from July 2012 - March 2018 were sold to Star India at a price of Rs.3851 crore.
Star Rules the Game of Cricket in India
The acquisition of such a right by Star was only one among many. For example: Star also has the Global Media Rights for Asia Cup (Asia Cup, Women's Asia Cup, Emerging Asia Cup and U19 Asia Cup) including TV, audio, internet and mobile rights for all territories globally for the period from 2016 to 2023, the Global broadcast rights for all ICC Events which includes exclusive live and highlights rights across all platforms for ICC major events - the ICC Cricket World Cup and its qualifiers, the ICC Women's World Cup, the ICC World Twenty20 and its qualifiers, the ICC Champions Trophy and the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup for the period from 2015-2023. In addition to the above, Star also has the rights for all the bilateral series of the Cricket Broads of Australia, England and Bangladesh and today the situation is such that except for Indian Premier League (IPL), Star has the rights for all the cricketing events to be shown in India for the next 6-7 years.
Star is also one of the potential bidders for the IPL cricket telecast rights. The Star is aiming to acquire the IPL cricket telecast rights also and thereby attain the status of 'sole holder' of the telecast rights of all the major cricketing events. The history of the media industry is witness to the fact that all the actions initiated by Star till date have always been to economically concentrate the power through acquisition of Cricket Broadcast Rights and thereby create a monopoly in the market to gain huge commercial advantage at the expense of the Consumers and the Distribution Industry.
Star has challenged TRAI Jurisdiction as well as its Regulations
Star is systematically moving towards elimination of competition and creation of monopoly in the cricket telecast segment. They intend to exploit their monopoly status for maximising their subscription and advertisement revenue at the cost of consumers. The prices of TV channels including the sports channels in India are regulated by the TRAI. TRAI in its recent regulations has capped the maximum retail prices of TV channels including sports channels at Rs. 19/- per subscriber per month. In order to serve its long term objective of charging the exorbitant price for its sports channels containing cricketing content, the Star has challenged the authority/jurisdiction of TRAI itself to fix the price of TV channels and the matter is pending before the Hon'ble High Court of Judicature at Madras.
Tata Sky, a DTH service provider and an associate company of Star - has also challenged the price regulations issued by TRAI before the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi. Further, the Star has also challenged the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharti) Act, 2007 which provides for mandatory sharing of sporting events of national importance with the Prasar Bharati to enable them to re-transmit the same on its terrestrial networks and Direct-to-Home networks. It is pertinent to mention in this regard that the enactment of the said statute was only a view to provide access to the largest number of listeners and viewers, on a free to air basis, of sporting events of national importance which inter alia include the major cricket events involving the Indian team.
Without IPL, Star owned 71% of Cricket rights
It is matter of record that out of the total 27 sports channels available in India, Star has 12 of the same, amounting to a huge share of 44% in terms of numbers. Furthermore, as per the data available in the market, out of the total 270 matches played/ to be played by India during the period from 2012-2019, telecast rights of as many as 191 matches are with Star only, which is around 71% of the total matches.
As per the data released by BARC, in terms of reach, Star channels had a reach of 71% during the time of Champions Trophy for the period between 01.06.17-18.06.17, whereas Sony Pictures, during the IPL session of 05.04.17-14.05.17 had a reach of 88%. In a situation where Star also has the rights for IPL, its channels' reach would have gone up to approximately 85% during IPL also. This would enable the Star to exorbitantly price its sports channels and would also result in the Star being able to extort very high advertisement rates which is estimated to be in the range of about 2050 Crore, which would constitute about 93% of total advertisement revenue earned by all sports channels in India
The pictures, as emerges from the above, clearly indicates that with the blessing of BCCI,the growth of Star has been exponential capturing all the rights for all the cricketing events to be shown in India except for lone event of IPL. The nation has witnessed the anarchical situation prevailing in BCCI leading to intervention by the Hon'ble Supreme Court and consequent appointment of Sh. Vi nod Rai as the Interim President to look after the administration of BCCI until further elections are held. With the management being managed by the Committee of Administrators (COA), we can expect some positive and remarkable changes in the way of functioning of BCCf.
In the various judicial pronouncements it has been held that BCCI is a public body discharging public functions. Accordingly it is expected that all the actions of BCCIin discharge of its function would not only lead to the furtherance of 'public interest' but will also ensure that no Monopoly is allowed to be created around the Cricket Broadcast Rights.
The acquisition of the IPL telecast rights by Star would lead to a situation where there will be an absolute monopoly thereby leading to dominance by Star in the field of cricketing telecast rights where Star will not only compel the distributors of TV channels such as the DTH operators to pay exorbitant price for their channels but also make the ultimate consumers to shell more and more money from their pockets. Such a situation would not only be anti-competitive but also anti-consumers as well.
At the end Mr Goel expects the Government to ensure that the BCCI will adopt pro-competitive and pro-consumer approach as one of the major criteria while awarding the IPL rights so that the rights of entire broadcasting and distribution sector as well as that of the viewers of cricketing events are safeguarded.