Broadcasters accused of colluding on digital channel fees

BERLIN

Germany’s antitrust watchdog, the Bundeskartellamt, has slapped TV giants ProSiebenSat.1 and RTL with Euros 55 million ($72.7 million) in fines for colluding on the encryption of their free TV channels.

Bundeskartellamt president Andreas Mundt said on Friday that his office had determined that the two TV giants agreed in 2005 and 2006 to encrypt the broadcast of their digital free TV channels in SD quality and make them only accessible for a fee.

In addition, ProSiebenSat.1 and RTL sought to limit their digital channels’ use by consumers by hindering possibilities to record programming through content protection functions and blocking ad-skipping features on digital recorders, Mundt added.

The cartel office also leveled unspecified penalties, included in the $72.7 million total, at two unnamed “responsible persons.”

The fines are not yet final and the Higher Regional Court of Duesseldorf will decide on any possible disputes, although the watchdog said RTL and ProSiebenSat.1 had agreed to an amicable settlement.

In addition, the broadcasters have agreed, as of January, to offer their basic channels unencrypted in SD quality on cable, satellite and IPTV for a period of 10 years, although they will continue to encrypt their HD channels.

“The responsibility of the commercial broadcasting groups to maintain unencrypted SD distribution ensures that viewers will be able to receive digital free TV without signal protection restrictions and without having additional charges incurred,” said Mundt.

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