German digital giants face monopoly charge

BERLIN — German pubcaster ARD has sent a letter of protest to EU antitrust authorities accusing media giants Bertelsmann and the Kirch Group of setting up a digital television monopoly, German weekly Spiegel reported on Sunday.

Earlier this summer, Kirch and Bertelsmann unit CLT-Ufa announced that they would take equal shares in pay TV web Premiere, which is currently conducting digital pilot projects. Kirch also owns digital pay TV platform DF1. While DF1 has a dearth of subscribers, Premiere is seen in 1.5 million German households.

Agreed to cooperate

Kirch and Bertelsmann have agreed to cooperate with telco Deutsche Telekom AG in establishing a digital platform for cable television that would be open to all webs, regardless of ownership. Neither the Premiere deal nor the Telekom agreement has been cleared by German or EU competition authorities.

Fritz Pleitgen, director of ARD member station WDR, reportedly complained to officials in Brussels that Kirch, Bertelsmann and Telekom have banded together and want “to dictate conditions to the rest.” Pleitgen is apparently worried that Bertelsmann and Kirch — who already control most major sports rights agencies, production companies and programming libraries in Germany — will use their dominance in the area of free TV to monopolize the digital TV market and to “hinder free competition.”

Pleitgen has asked that German pubcasters be invited to take a share in Beta Research, a joint venture of Kirch, Bertelsmann and Telekom, which is currently in the process of developing the technical structure for digital television in Germany.

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