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Norway tackles national media turf war

A measure that could have widespread implications for some of Norway’s biggest media players is expected to go to a vote in the Norwegian Parliament this week.

Legislators have been asked to settle a legal tangle regarding local TV licenses that has turned into a national media brawl – complete with threats of lawsuits against the government by national commercial channel TV2, and warnings police will be sent in to close down local stations if the practice doesn’t stop.

At issue is whether local commercial stations should be allowed to link up to form networks that could have national reach, and whether they will be permitted to carry programming of the other more popular channels.

The brouhaha began some 18 months ago when pan-Scandi outlet SBS’ TV Norge, a five-year-old satcaster, began giving its programming to local commercial stations. The local outfits have a reach of up to 20 miles, but when linked to them TV Norge is capable of extending its penetration from a meager 43% to as high as 70%. SBS is also backed by U.S. interests, including CapCities/ABC and Paramount TV.

The move made TV Norge much more attractive to advertisers, but it triggered a major turf war with TV2, whose government-sanctioned monopoly on national advertising has allowed it to make a bundle. TV2 charges the practice violates its charter, and has threatened to sue the government.

Ineffective threats

In efforts to head off legal action, the Norwegian Ministry of Culture has warned the stations they could be closed down by the police, but the threats have failed to stop the practice. With Norway as one of the hottest commercial territories in Europe, the local tiff has sparked more than a little interest.

Giant Scandi publishing group Aller has been buying up local channels with hopes of forming a national commercial web with as much as 80% penetration. TV2 itself has a 91% reach. On top of that, Norwegian public broadcaster NRK wants Parliament to vote on whether it can use the local channels as commercial windows.

The measure submitted by the Ministry of Culture asks Parliament to decide if TV2 should be allowed to keep the national monopoly, and if the role of local channels should be expanded.

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