Spain digital duo inks soccer truce

MADRID — Spain’s digital operators — Canal Satelite Digital (CSD) and Via Digital — have at least lowered, if not buried, the hatchet, signing Tuesday an accord to share the prized pay-per-view rights to soccer league games for the rest of this season.

Rights ownership wrangles had meant that neither platform has regu-larly broadcast PPV soccer games this season, despite their being seen as the motor powering digital TV take-up in Spain. (CSD fired off a stern press release Wednesday pointing out that it holds exclusive rights to PPV soccer games for the years 1998 to 2003.)

The key question remains whether this agreement could signal a larger accord between the two operators.

According to high-placed sources in the Spanish government, which backs Via Digital, CSD and Via Digital could soon reach a deal for a common interface for their set-top decoders. In technical terms, this would allow subscribers to utilize one service to access the other, probably at a pre-mium price.

With both players seemingly satis-fied with their fast subscription take-up, a total merger of the platforms onto a single satellite system does not look likely at the present.

The soccer accord, which means that the platforms will simulcast the PPV soccer services, has at least brought a cheer from both camps and Spain at large.

The digital dogfight has sparked bitter controversy in a country still haunted by the uncontrolled confron-tations that plunged Spain into a Civil War in the 1930s.

“We’re very relieved,” said a gov-ernmental source. “The digital fight was doing immense damage to every-body.”

While Spain’s conservative gov-ernment backs Via Digital — an alliance of Telefonica (25%), pubcaster RTVE (17%) and Mexico’s Televisa (17%) — the country’s socialist opposition supports CSD. The latter is controlled through conglom Sogecable by Canal Plus France (21%) and media empire Prisa (21%).

In commercial terms, digital TV in Spain, as in France, is already something of a success.

CSD boasts some 200,000 subs, Via 170,000, making Spain the second-largest digital TV market after France.

“The problem with two operators, however, is that recoupment will be much slower for both and that puts a strain on the shareholders, especially those that do not have programming on a platform,” Luis Maria Anson, execu-tive president of Grupo Televisa Espana, said.

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