Exclusive: German TV groups accept penalty

Jörn Krieger | 28-12-2012

The German TV groups Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland and ProSiebenSat.1 have accepted the fine imposed by the cartel office Bundeskartellamt due to anti-competitive arrangements in the deployment of basic encryption on their digital free-to-air channels.

However, the groups will stick with the encryption of their HD channels. The end of freely receivable commercial television in Germany will, therefore, be only a question of time.

"The current models for the distribution of our channels in HD are legal and permitted. We therefore have the planning security urgently required for the further development of our digital offerings and the HD distribution of our channels," a spokesman of Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland told Rapid TV News. With his statement, he refers to the fact that the antitrust authority has no objections against the encryption, reception fees and usage restrictions the broadcasters impose on their HD channels.

"We accept the obligation to transmit our SD signals unencrypted for the limited period of ten years in parallel as part of the conditions. Independently of this, the signal protection of our HD feeds remains a crucial precondition for sustainable success in the digital world for us," added the spokesman.

"The main importance for us was the urgently required planning security for the expansion of our digital offerings at a time in which digitalisation has considerably gained pace in Germany. Overall, we therefore consider the closure of the cases in mutual consent to be a positive occurrence," said the spokesman.

"We have recognised the cartel office's proceedings as a legal risk at an early stage and already formed provision of capital in 2011. The fine has therefore no impact on our financial profit in the year 2012."

"This is an issue settled a long time ago. In its annual report 2011, ProSiebenSat.1 Group already documents the accusation that ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG has apparently concluded arrangements with RTL Group regarding in particular the encryption of TV channels formerly available free-of-charge," a ProSiebenSat.1 spokesman told Rapid TV News. "In July 2012, ProSiebenSat.1 Group and Bundeskartellamt agreed on a mutual termination of the case associated with this accusation. This agreement has now formally been implemented with the notifications issued."

As the agreement with the cartel office only prescribes the SD channels to be transmitted unencrypted for the time being, but not the HD channels, it is predestined that commercial television in Germany, despite the criticism by viewers, consumer protectors, housing associations and media authorities, will in future be encrypted, subject to fees and usage restrictions – at the latest in ten years' time when the broadcasters' self-commitment will run out. By this time HDTV will have established itself as the standard for TV reception.