BERLIN — The ball is rolling at Arena, the sports rights subsid of German cabler Unity Media, which hopes to build a new pay TV sports channel from scratch in time for this summer’s Bundesliga soccer kickoff.
Company secured a broadcasting license from the state media watchdog in North Rhine-Westphalia on March 10, insuring it will be able to air Bundesliga matches on its own.
This irked execs at paybox Premiere, which controlled Bundesliga rights until December, when the German Football League gave the rights to the new and untested company in a three-year, $1 billion deal.
This, however, raises the specter of a company that controls cable pipes also controlling content, something that has raised the hackles of Germany’s antitrust watchdogs in the past.
“It’s in the inherent interest of a cable provider to favor its own offer and to edge out rivals who are looking to offer other pay TV content,” says Premiere CEO Georg Kofler.
He wants new laws ensuring that pay TV competitors like Premiere — until recently Germany’s only paybox — will continue to have unimpeded access to viewers.
Fearing just a scenario when John Malone’s Liberty Media attempted to take over Deutsche Telekom’s cable assets in 2002, Germany’s cartel office blocked the deal.
Arena’s Bundesliga rights don’t compare to Liberty’s vast programming assets and Ulf Boege, head of the federal antitrust authority, is not worried about Arena dominating the market.
“Arena creates a second pay TV player in the German market. In view of competition, that is definitely something positive.”
Boege says Arena has plenty of opportunities to exploit its rights without violating antitrust law, such as sublicensing rights to other TV broadcasters and offering Arena’s Bundesliga coverage to other cable providers, including Kabel Deutschland and Kabel Baden-Wurttemberg, as well as satellite operators SES Astra and Eutelsat.
Arena, meanwhile, is putting together its management and editorial team for its sports channel. Last month, the company hired former ProSieben managing director Dejan Jocic to oversee production of Bundesliga coverage, which Unity is planning to offer in German, English, Spanish and Turkish.
It’s also commissioned EM.TV sports production services division Plazamedia to oversee TV coverage of the games.
Company is reportedly also in talks with Sat 1 sports chief Albrecht Schmitt-Fleckenstein to take a similar post.