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October 14, 2011
Television audiences in India and England were deprived of the first three overs of the opening match of the five-match ODI series between the two teams in Hyderabad, as well as the conventional pre-match programming. The 15-minute blackout of live feed came about as the result of a dispute over the payment of a bank guarantee from broadcaster Neo Sports, a part of Nimbus Communications Ltd, to Prasar Bharati, the government agency responsible for uplinking live telecasts out of India. In a statement released at the end of the Indian innings, Neo Sports stated that an "unreasonable demand" from Prasar Bharti had caused the delay in the uplinking facilities being made available to them.
Early on in the telecast, the delay had been put down to "technical issues" but NeoCricket's mid-match statement alleged that the 2.5-over blackout took place because Prasar Bharati had demanded the payment of a bank guarantee far earlier than had originally been agreed upon in a draft agreement. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in New Delhi, which oversees Prasar Bharati, only approved the uplinking facilties just before the start of the first ball.
The lack of television feed meant that for the first 15 minutes of the match there were no live pictures from the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Hyderabad to Neo Cricket, the rights holders, to Doordarshan for terrestrial coverage in India, to Sky TV in Britain as well as to the BCCI's website, which promised live streaming. This was India's first fixture at home both after their World Cup victory as well as the disastrous tour of England.
Neo Cricket's coverage during that period of that match involved a studio chat with Venkatesh Prasad and Paul Collingwood as experts and a ticker running at the bottom of the screen stating that there was "no coverage due to technical issues".
There was also an issue about Sky TV's own commentators awaiting what one Sky commentator told ESPNcricinfo were "government clearances", before being able to broadcast live out of India. As a result, the Sky TV producers made use of the Neo Cricket commentary team including Matthew Hoggard and Dermot Reeve.
According to Neo, there was a change in the agreement involving the date of payment of a bank guarantee of Rs 4 crores (approximately US $813,000) from the broadcaster to Prasar Bharati. Under the draft agreement between the two signed on October 12, 2011, Neo was required to submit the bank guarantee within five days of signing the formal agreement. "It was expected that the agreement would be signed on the 13th or 14th and thus the BG [bank guarantee] would be submitted on the 19th or 20th of October 2011 (i.e. 5 dates after signing)," Neo said in the statement.
Neo states that at 7pm on the night before the Hyderabad ODI, the ministry of information and broadcasting, Prasar Bharati's parent ministry, sent a letter stating that uplink permission would be granted to Neo only after it submitted a bank guarantee before the start of the first ODI. After failing to get an extension on the payment of bank guarantee following a meeting in Delhi, Neo states that it paid the entire bank guarantee to Prasar Bharati at 12:37 pm on Friday. The uplink licence was issued to BCCI and Neo Cricket, "past the match start time of 2:30 pm today resulting in no coverage for the first few balls of the Event."
In its statement, Neo said it intends to approach the government to request the framing of "appropriate" and "equitable and reasonable" rules with regard to the sharing of revenues from the telecast of live events in India.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said in a letter to the BCCI that Neo was denied the live telecast "for the non-compliance of the provisions of the Sports Broadcasting Signals (mandatory sharing with Prasar Bharti) Act 2007 and the rules thereon."
The letter went on to say: "It has now been confirmed that M/s Neo Broadcast Private Ltd has handed over two bank drafts of the amount Rs 4,00,50,000/- to Doordarshan with an undertaking that M/s Neo Broadcast Private Ltd will submit a bank guarantee equal to this amount by October 21, 2011."
This is not the first time Neo and Prasar Bharati have sparred over the issue of payments. In 2007, Neo filed a lawsuit over the government's uplinking guidelines that made it mandatory for all sports channels to share their feeds with Prasar Bharati for sporting events of national importance. The court ruled in Prasar Bharati's favour and Neo was forced to share its feed, albeit with a seven-minute delay.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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