Digital war heats up

Canal+ files complaint against Spanish state

MADRID — The heavy artillery has been rolled out in Spain’s digital TV war.

France’s Canal Plus, Europe’s largest pay TV operator, has filed a complaint with the European Commission against the Spanish state. The French feevee giant is protesting the Spanish state’s refusal to approve the Seca decoders currently used by Spain’s first digital platform, CanalSatelite Digital (CSD).

According to a Canal Plus press statement, Spain’s Telecommunications Market Commission ruled May 8 that CSD’s Seca decoders did not abide by Spanish law.

CSD is 85% owned by film and TV holding Sogecable, controlled by France’s Canal Plus (25%) and Spanish media conglom Prisa (25%). Digital technology supplier Seca (Societe Europeenne de Controle d’Acces) is a joint venture of Canal Plus and Bertelsmann.

The complaint, announced Thusday, represents a step-up in hostilities between Sogecable and the Spanish government.

Spain’s ruling conservative party has thrown its weight behind a mooted rival digital platform to CSD, Via Digital, whose principal shareholders are Spanish telco Telefonica (35%), TVE Tematica (25%, a subsid of pubcaster Rtve) and Mexico’s Televisa (25%).

In what many regard as a frontal attack on Prisa, which is close to Spain’s opposition socialists, the government passed a Digital TV Law in April. This polemical legislation allowed Via Digital to rule if CSD should be forced to swap its proprietary Seca set-top boxes, some 80,000 of which are now installed in Spanish homes, for Via Digital’s still-to-be made multicrypt open-access decoders.

Last week, however, Martin Bangemann, European Telecommunications Technology Commissioner, declared that CSD’s Seca decoders, which are used by Canal Plus’ digital feed in France, conform to European standards.

Canal Plus’ legal action will at least severely embarrass the Spanish government, which has worked hard — and successfully — to bring the Spanish economy into shape for fast-track European monetary union.

Ironically, however, it’s received little credit for this at home with domestic media coverage focusing far more on the future of digital TV in Spain, which has become the legislative issue of the year.

The government now faces the prospect of one of Europe’s leading and respected TV players criticizing that although Spain is in line with Europe over its economy, it’s way out of order on its digital TV rulings, which, Canal Plus is claiming, contravene both European business practice and the Treaty of Rome.

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