SBS takes ad lawsuit to Norway

Pan Scandinavian media group SBS is prepared for another legal showdown against government advertising monopolies – this time in Norway.

The group’s chairman and CEO Harry Sloan told Variety that SBS will go to local and international courts if necessary to defend its policy of allowing local commercial TV stations in Norway to carry the programming of SBS channel TVNorge.

The practice poses a direct threat to national terrestrial channel TV2, which has a 92% reach and a monopoly on national advertising. Although local channels will increase their viewership, the big winner in the deal is TV Norge, which can extend its 50% reach to as much as 65%-70%, making it very attractive to advertisers.

Norway’s Parliament stepped into the fray in June after TV2 threatened to sue the government for “substantial damages” if the practice wasn’t stopped. In a majority vote Parliament ordered local stations to cease the practice by Oct. 1 and make programming deals with TV2 instead.

A Ministry of Culture spokesman called the vote “legally binding,” but Sloan said it is highly questionable as to whether it will stick. SBS attorney Jon Gulbrandsen maintains legal action can be taken in Norway, the European Union and other courts, as Norway is a signatory to a number of international treaties, including the European Economic Area agreement.

“We have not in the past been reluctant to take legal actions against governments if necessary,” Sloan warned.

SBS, partially backed by Capital Cities/ABC, won a battle this year in Belgium when it challenged the national advertising monopoly of Flemish commercial market leader VTM by launching its new channel VT4 into that territory in February. The European Commission, following up on a complaint by SBS, told the Belgian government to get rid of VTM’s ad monopoly or face sanctions by an EU court.

“TV Norge will continue to honor our agreements with the local stations if they wish to do so,” Sloan said. None of the 15 local stations yet has canceled contracts with TV Norge as a result of the Parliamentary order.

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