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ARD accused of nixing sports competish

Pubcaster blamed for exploiting EC

BERLIN — The topper of German pubcaster ARD has dismissed claims by digital paybox Premiere that it has consistently abused license fees to stifle competition for sports rights.

Premiere on Friday filed a complaint with the European Commission, which also targets the European Broadcasting Union, for what it calls unfair practices in the acquisition of sports rights.

ARD topper Jobst Plog accused Premiere of exploiting the EC for its own corporate interest.

Premiere chief Georg Kofler charged the EBU, which represents European pubcasters, with having an illicit acquisitions cartel in the sports rights market.

As evidence, Kofler cited the fact that rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games went to German pubcasters ARD and ZDF although Premiere bid more. While no figures have been disclosed, the EBU is estimated to have paid around E550 million ($660 million), with the German share at $140 million.

According to local reports, Premiere offered $240 million and terrestrial broadcaster ProSiebenSat 1 about $210 million.

As part of the EBU, “ARD and ZDF are locking out competitors at the cost of license fee payers,” Kofler said, adding that Premiere has a clear disadvantage compared to the EBU.

Kofler also accused ARD, ZDF and Austrian pubcaster ORF of regularly purchasing pay TV rights “although they can’t use them.”

He said the pubcasters were using money from license fees to build a huge rights catalog “that serves only to block or control the access to sporting events of rivals like Premiere. It’s a paradox: License fee payers pay for programming that they can’t even watch.”

Kofler added that “we are not questioning the license fee system, but we think it’s unlawful that ARD and ZDF are abusing its generous endowment to hinder competition.”

ZDF topper Markus Schaechter justified the EBU’s acquisition of Olympic rights, saying the Intl. Olympic Committee backed it because the unencrypted EBU coverage guaranteed the Games would reach the most viewers.

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