As telcos try to establish themselves in the content business, Julian Clover reports on Telenor, which has quietly established itself as an entertainer
In Europe it has become the norm for the major satellite broadcaster to also control one of the major content players in their chosen region. In Norway however the approach can be likened more to Echostar in the United States. Telenor Broadcast Holdings owns the satellites, and since the withdrawal of Canal+ from the majority of its international markets, the Canal Digital satellite platform.
Stig Eide Sivertsen, CEO, Telenor Broadcast Holdings says the company is trying to be the first choice for TV entertainment. “We started with the infrastructure, satellites, towers, and if we are to succeed the broadcasters have to say I’m, going there to get a good deal and we don’t have to risk anything as we’re getting every thing they need.” Telenor runs telephony, terrestrial television, satellite, cable and IPTV platforms, but Sivertsen is clear that the company is not focussed precisely on content, though it is dependent on the media sector.
Of the three principal sources of revenues in the TV sector: the licence fee, advertising and pay-TV, Sivertsen says there is no solid alternative to the licensing model. However, he adds that there is debate as to what this will look like in five years time. The advertising model is already under threat in Sweden, though Sivertsen believes it to be safe in Norway, for now. “If viewing figures fall below a threshold, and no one knows what that is, it will not be legitimate to tax people to watch television,” says Sivertsen. “The public service broadcasters made a decision not to go to sports rights and that’s a very bold move and might jeopardise some of the ad revenues they’re going for.”
In recent years the company has begun to focus on the acquisition of sports rights – taking Norwegian football – and leveraging the content across pay-TV, mobile and broadband. The sports rights are held as part of TV2 Norway, the commercial broadcaster, in which Telenor has a significant interest through the publishing group A-pressen. The investment has already paid off to the tune of 112,000 new subscribers in the last 12 months, and while initially the clubs had to be compensated for falling attendances, gates are now increasing.
Telenor has partnered with the national commercial networks of Norway, Sweden and Denmark to acquire the rights to the 2008 European football championships. All the matches will be available on TV2 Norway, TV2 Denmark and TV4 in Sweden. Canal Digital will have the same matches, complete with the local commentaries in HD, as attempts to underline that the acquisition of an HD Ready display is only half the purchase.
“Normally we have to plug a product. This time it’s the other way ground. Consumers in their millions have gone to the shops and bought the screens but they are HD Empty,” says Sivertsen. “When you have the same signal into a bigger screen it looks worse.” Canal Digital’s commitment to the HD format is such that it is no longer accepting proposals from standard definition channels looking to join the platform.