Author: Sunidhi Bansal
Section 3 (1) of The Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 (hereinafter “Sports Act”) provides that, “No content rights owner or holder and no television or radio broadcasting service provider shall carry a live television broadcast on any cable or Direct-to-Home network or radio commentary broadcast in India of sporting events of national importance, unless it simultaneously shares the live broadcasting signal, without its advertisements, with the Prasar Bharati to enable them to re-transmit the same on its terrestrial networks and Direct-to-Home networks in such manner and on such terms and conditions as may be specified.”
Section 3(1) of the Sports Act, thus mandates that the broadcasters of ‘sporting events of national importance’ must share a clean feed of the broadcast with Prasar Bharati.
Section 3 (2) of the Sports Act provides that subject to Section 3 (1), any advertisement revenue shall be shared between the content rights owner or holder and Prasar Bharati in the ratio of not less than 75:25 in case of television coverage and 50:50 in case of radio coverage.
The purpose behind Section 3 of the Sports Act is to ensure access to public at large of sporting events of national importance. However, the requirement of sharing the feed without any advertisement creates an issue of statutory interpretation. This is because active sponsor advertising and promotion, common for the sports footage, typically contains sponsor logos and on-seek credits. The sight of sponsors logos on the boundary lines, over the pitch, on the players uniform, on screen with score chart & statistics, etc., are common in sports video. In the absence of a definition of ‘advertisement’ in the Sports Act, it is not clear whether the feeds shared by the broadcaster with Prasar Bharti, with glimpses of the sponsors logo or screen credits, amounts to advertisement or not.
This article seeks to examine whether it is the responsibility of the broadcaster to remove the on-screen credits or sponsors logo by virtue of them amounting to “advertisement” within the Sports Act.
Obligation of the Broadcaster under Sports Act
The plain reading of Section 3 (1) of the Sports Act, makes it clear that the feed has to be shared by the broadcaster without advertisement, thus the obligation is on the broadcaster to remove the advertisements. This was also clarified by the Supreme Court in Star Sports India Pvt Ltd v. Prasar Bharti & Ors. [Civil Appeal No.5252 of 2016], wherein the appellant argued that under Section 3(1) of the Sports Act, the obligation of a television broadcaster is limited to sharing of the feed which it receives from the event organizer as it is, and that the appellant is not obliged to remove any on-screen Credits inserted by the event organizer. The Supreme Court bench [A.K. Sikri, Prafulla C. Pant] in this case clarified that the onus of sharing advertisement free video is on the broadcasters only, and they can’t share it as is received and if advertisement is present in the shared signal, the income generated from such advertisement has to be shared between the Broadcaster and Prasar Bharti within Section 3 (2) of Sports Act.
Sponsor’s logo and on-screen title as advertisement
Pursuant to clarification on the Broadcaster’s obligation, the Supreme court also dealt with the issue whether sponsors logo and/or on-screen titles in the feed would amount to advertisement or not? On this issue, the Supreme Court bench in the Star Sports Case (supra) adopted the purposive interpretation and held that , “No doubt, such logos or On-Screen Credits may appear at the time of featuring replays like ball delivery speed and when a player gets out …etc. Nonetheless, these are the advertisements of the sponsors like Pepsi, LG, Fly Emirates, Reliance, etc. These sponsors have entered into arrangement for showing their logo on the occasions referred to above. …viz. it is intended to advertise their company names for commercial motives in mind. These are, thus, commercials of the sponsors which would clearly be treated as not only advertisements but commercial advertisements.”The Supreme court thus made it clear that the sponsors logo and on-screen credits has to be considered like any other commercial advertisement. The Supreme Court also clarified that the word ‘its’ in ‘without its advertisements’ does not mean the advertisements of only broadcasting service providers, and that the broadcasting signals have to be without advertisements, whether it is of the content rights owner, content holder or that of television or radio broadcasting service provider.
From the above it is clear that the onus of sharing the advertisement free broadcasting signals of a sports event with national importance is upon the broadcaster. If the shared signals contain advertisements, then the broadcaster will have to share the advertisement revenue with Prasar Bharti. By virtue of Supreme Court’s judgement, the on-screen titles and sponsors logo appearing in the sports feed are also not free from the realm of advertisement. Thus, the mere removal of commercial breaks is not enough for an advertisement free feed, but the on-screen titles and sponsors logo must also be removed.
Disclaimer: Views, opinions, interpretations are solely those of the author, not of the firm (ALG India Law Offices LLP) nor reflective thereof. Author submissions are not checked for plagiarism or any other aspect before being posted.
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