Hungary caves over cable

EC forces amendment to media law

BUDAPEST — A standoff between the European Commission and the Hungarian government has ended, clearing the way for major changes in the country’s broadcasting landscape.

In the face of an EC’s threat of legal action, Budapest agreed Thursday to make amendments to its media law, removing clauses that limited cable coverage to one-third of the population, equivalent to 10.1 million people.

According to an EC statement: “The provision limited competition for cable TV and broadband Internet services in Hungary: such a lack of competition typically leads to higher prices, less innovation and slower take up of these services.”

The amendment is bound to alter the shape of TV in Hungary, given the ratings strength of cable nets such as Viasat 3, which already is luring audiences away from terrestrial TV with hot U.S. series like “CSI: Miami,” “Without a Trace” and “Las Vegas.”

Hip cablers like Viasat 3 could come within striking distance of Hungary’s two commercial terrestrial giants — RTL Media controlled RTL Klub and SBS controlled TV2 — now that there are no restrictions on cable programming penetration.

“I welcome the fact that Hungary has finally lifted the restrictions imposed on cable TV operators by the Media Act. In Hungary, cable TV operators are major providers of broadband access to the Internet. Now cable TV operators will be able to provide their services without restriction throughout Hungary, and Hungarian citizens will have better choice in broadband services,” EC competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

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