MTV pulls Amsterdam plug

Dutch cabler demanding hook-up fees

AMSTERDAM — MTV pulled its channel off the air in Amsterdam July 4 leaving the city and its surrounding vicinity the only European capital areas that cannot receive the international music channel.

MTV unplugged from Amsterdam cable company A2000 following a dispute on one side with the cabler over hook-up fees, and on the other side with the Amsterdam programming council APR (Amsterdam Programma’Raad), which acts as a watchdog over which channels can be aired in the greater Amsterdam area.

The channel was yanked off the air after the APR issued a draft plan suggesting MTV would have to share airtime with two other music stations, a local channel called TV Noordzee and the Box. According to the APR draft, viewers would be allowed to watch MTV only between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m., a plan MTV Europe chairman Brent Hanson called “outrageous.”

MTV also castigated Amsterdam cable company A2000, which feeds some 500,000 subscribers in a 50-kilometer area in Amsterdam and the surrounding suburbs, for charging it 725,000 guilders ($362,500) annually for its programming. The practice of cable companies charging for programming is still seen as unusual in Europe, but it is believed to be the direction in which the market is headed.

Broadcasters in Holland have been engaged in an ongoing tug of war with A2000 over continued attempts by the cabler to charge for programming. A2000 is 50% owned by United Philips Corp. (a company 100% owned by United Intl. Holding) and 50% by Media One (formerly US West).

Can’t find niche

Discovery Channel and Eurosport were both taken off the air in Amsterdam after they refused to pay the fees and to join A2000’s “plus” package of channels, which are accessible only by decoder. The niche channels said their ad revs depended on viewing numbers.

Last May, A2000 threatened to pull the plug on commercial broadcasters RTL 4, RTL 5 and Veronica after parent company Holland Media Group (HMG) refused to pay $1.6 million in hook-up fees. HMG was ordered by a judge to pay half of it and to submit the payments issue to arbitration.

The dispute over fees is being watched closely by other cable companies in Holland, a country with more than 95% cable penetration, since A2000 is the first to try to charge TV stations for the right to be transmitted via its cable. Currently viewers pay a monthly fee for cable reception along with other utilities, but A2000 is trying to bring down the number of channels on the basic package from 26 to 15 and force the rest onto a premium package.

TV10 and TMF (the Music Factory), two niche channels, have been in and out of civil courts for several years over the issue of A2000 charging what the two channels’ attorneys have labeled “exorbitant” fees for cable transmission.

The APR, which has been attacked on more than one occasion for what some broadcasters have called programming censorship, said two music channels — TMF and the combo channel suggested by the draft — was enough for the Amsterdam area.

The APR, which is made up of 13 members recruited through newspaper advertisements, has also attacked A2000. Sonia ter Muelen, a spokeswoman for the APR, said A2000’s price structure “creates trouble every year and should be diversified.”

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