Spanish digital duel heats up

MADRID – In a desperate rearguard action, the Spanish government is trying to block the Jan. 31 launch of Spain’s first large digital platform, the 26-channel CanalSatelite Digital (CSD), owned by Sogecable, a joint venture of Canal Plus in France (25%) and Spanish conglom Prisa (25%).

The government announced last Friday that the Sogecable platform must use open-access decoders and will need a license to launch, which could push back its digital bow until June, according to Miguel Angel Rodriguez, Spain’s secretary of state for communication.

The governmental move is widely interpreted in Spain as a declaration of open war on Prisa. A symbol of Spanish liberalism, Prisa president Jesus de Polanco is a close associate of opposition leader Felipe Gonzalez. Spain’s conservative government has thrown its weight behind Sogecable’s rival, the digital platform led by telco Telefonica and pubcaster RTVE.

Sogecable plans to launch with conditional-access SECA decoders, the same technology used by Canal Plus in France. Owning both Spanish soccer and pay TV rights to firstrun U.S. movies, Sogecable has the content to win a digital showdown in Spain, analysts say.

The Spanish government’s stalling tactics are seen as a move to force Sogecable aboard a single digital platform in Spain, or to gain time for the Telefonica-led platform to organize. According to sources, Sogecable recently rejected a government offer to take a 40% stake in the Telefonica-led platform.

In a separate move, the Recoletos Group, a Spanish publishing conglom owned by the U.K.’s Pearson Group, has taken a 5% stake in the Telefonica-led digital platform, Spanish press reports say.

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