Spain digital duo inks soccer truce

MADRID — Spain’s digital operators — Canal Satelite Digital (CSD) and Via Digital — have at least lowered, if not buried, the hatchet, signing Tuesday an accord to share the prized pay-per-view rights to soccer league games for the rest of this season.

Rights ownership wrangles had meant that neither platform has regularly broadcast PPV soccer games this season, despite their being seen as the motor powering digital TV take-up in Spain. (CSD fired off a stern press release Wednesday pointing out that it holds exclusive rights to PPV soccer games for the years 1998 to 2003.)

The key question remains whether this agreement could signal a larger accord between the two operators.

Decoder deal close

According to high-placed sources in the Spanish government, which backs Via Digital, CSD and Via Digital could soon reach a deal for a common interface for their set-top decoders. In technical terms, this would allow subscribers to utilize one service to access the other, probably at a premium price.

With both players seemingly satisfied with their fast subscription take-up, a total merger of the platforms onto a single satellite system does not look likely at the present.

The soccer accord, which means that the platforms will simulcast the PPV soccer services, has at least brought a cheer from both camps and Spain at large.

The digital dogfight has sparked bitter controversy in a country still haunted by the uncontrolled confrontations that plunged Spain into a Civil War in the 1930s.

Relief

“We’re very relieved,” said a governmental source. “The digital fight was doing immense damage to everybody.”

While Spain’s conservative government backs Via Digital — an alliance of Telefonica (25%), pubcaster RTVE (17%) and Mexico’s Televisa (17%) — the country’s socialist opposition supports CSD. The latter is controlled through conglom Sogecable by Canal Plus France (21%) and media empire Prisa (21%).

In commercial terms, digital TV in Spain, as in France, is already something of a success.

CSD boasts some 200,000 subs, Via 170,000, making Spain the second-largest digital TV market after France.

“The problem with two operators, however, is that recoupment will be much slower for both and that puts a strain on the shareholders, especially those that do not have programming on a platform,” Luis Maria Anson, executive president of Grupo Televisa Espana, said.

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