Spain gov’t wins round in soccer rights game

MADRID — In a dramatic new turn to Spain’s digital war between its conservative government and its first digital TV platform, CanalSatelite Digital (CSD), Spain’s Parliament voted Thursday against any TV operator in Spain holding exclusive pay TV rights to Spanish soccer game transmissions.

The vote, a first reading of Spain’s Sports TV Transmissions Law, is widely seen as a frontal attack on free broadcaster Antena 3 TV and holding company Sogecable, owned by Canal Plus and Spanish conglom Prisa.

Last December the duo pooled contracts with 40 Spanish soccer clubs for exclusive free-to-air and pay TV rights to Spanish soccer league games, for which the partners paid more than $1.4 billion.

The deal was designed to capture soccer rights for CSD, owned by Sogecable (85%) and Antena 3 TV (15%), leaving its rival platform, the government-backed Via Digital with few soccer events, and hence far less chance of success. Via Digital is skedded to launch this September.

But the debate over Spain’s so-called “soccer law” is far from over. The mooted law now has to go before Spain’s Senate and then return to Parliament within a month for a final vote.

“The bill is anti-constitutional. I just hope common sense prevails in the Senate,” Prisa CEO Juan Luis Cenrian said.In yet another polemical decision, Spain’s Parliament passed a Digital TV Law in April allowing Via Digital to decide if CSD should be forced to swap its proprietary access set-top boxes for Via Digital’s yet-to-be-made multicrypt open-access decoders.

As vice president of the Spanish government, Francisco Alvarez Cascos declared after the vote on the soccer law that “the door is still open to dialogue,” which means the issue of decoders and soccer pay TV rights are set for even further negotiations.

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