Chris Dziadul Reports: Carriage disputes

Are carriage disputes symptomatic of wider changes taking place in the industry?

On the face of it, the one between Discovery and RCS&RDS currently making the headlines in Romania is probably little more than a leading content provider and pay-TV platform operator arguing over the cost of distributing a handful of channels. Both have made their position clear – in the case of RCS&RDS by withdrawing the channels from its offer – but remain open to further talks.

In the meantime, viewers have been deprived of the channels through no fault of their own. Some have complained, and most will probably not be satisfied until Discovery, a well-known and highly respected brand, reappears on their screens.

Elsewhere in the region, there have been carriage disputes involving – amongst others – Viasat and Latvia’s Lattelecom over the distribution of TV3, and more will undoubtedly follow.

Further afield, we have also this year seen a major dispute in the US between Dish Network and AMC Networks, with the former depriving over 14 million of its subscribers of such popular channels as Sundance (which, incidentally, is currently growing its footprint in the CEE region).

Meanwhile in the UK there was a long-running carriage dispute between Sky and Virgin over the distribution of the former’s channels by the cable network. It lasted nearly two years and came to an end in late 2008.

Clearly these disputes are played out against the backdrop of regulatory frameworks that vary from country to country. Money is invariably the main problem, although the arguments can sometimes be over the bundling of underperforming channels with popular ones.

However, the real issue is that the industry is changing at break-neck speed, with content increasingly being made available to viewers anytime, anywhere and on any device and – just as importantly – not only by traditional pay-TV companies.

Some in the industry argue that these disputes only serve to underline how increasingly out of touch some of the established content providers and pay-TV platforms are. Whether that is true or not, no one can dispute that they have to adapt, and adapt quickly, to new realities.