Chris Dziadul Reports: Channel wars

Content is to broadcasting as fuel to an engine: without the former, the latter can’t function.

Which is perhaps why it is no surprise that channel distribution is such a bone of contention, and that this year has started off with high profile disputes in two CEE markets – Bulgaria and Romania – involving its leading broadcasters.

At the time of writing, the dispute in Romania appears to have been resolved, with Pro TV’s 11 channels once more being made available in their entirety on all Romtelecom’s platforms. However, the one in Bulgaria shows no sign of ending and has indeed been referred to the European authorities by both parties.

There are, of course, two sides to any dispute and it is clear from both of these that the channel distributors (Romtelecom in Romania and Bulsatcom and the cable association in Bulgaria) have or continue to feel aggrieved with the high prices being charged by the broadcasters/content providers, both of which are owned Central European Media Enterprises (CME). Indeed, in one instance they have accused the latter of increasing their fees three-fold.

However, in the case of Bulgaria, the bTV Media Group has also argued its position quite strongly, going so far as to supply Broadband TV News with a detailed explanation of – and the reasons for – the stance it has taken.

Put simply, it argues that platforms such as Bulsatcom are guilty of underreporting their subscriber numbers and in doing so are depriving the content production industry of much-needed funds to help it grow. It also says that Bulsatcom owes it a considerable amount of money going back several months.

Content is an increasingly valuable commodity in the TV industry. Although the dispute in Bulgaria, which also involves the channel TV7, will almost certainly be resolved in due course, we are unfortunately likely to see more such disagreements in CEE in the future.