German cable operator Unitymedia and public broadcaster ZDF have settled their long-standing legal battle over the payment of carriage fees for the cable distribution of ZDF’s channels and have agreed on a long-term carriage deal.
After ARD and ZDF had already reached an agreement with Vodafone and ARD with Unitymedia in spring 2018, both public broadcasters have now settled their disputes with the two largest German cable operators and concluded new, long-term carriage contracts.
With the new agreement, Unitymedia customers in federal states North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Baden-Württemberg will now receive the complete range of ZDF and 3sat channels in SD and HD resolution, including services for barrier-free use (audio description, subtitles and sign language). In the near future, ZDF’s catch-up TV ZDFmediathek service will also become available on Unitymedia’s multimedia platform Horizon.
The legal dispute dealt with the controversial question whether ARD and ZDF, as broadcasters with ‘must carry’ status, require a contract for cable distribution and have to pay a fee to the cable operators. In 2012, ARD and ZDF terminated their carriage contracts with the two major cable operators effective December 31, 2012 and stopped making payments.
It can no longer be justified that fees are paid to companies that earn good money from the distribution of the public channels, said ZDF’s general director Dr Thomas Bellut at the time. ARD and ZDF recently suffered a setback in the dispute: In July 2017, the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court ruled that the broadcasters were obliged to pay carriage fees.
In May 2018, it became known that ARD pays Unitymedia €31.2 million retrospectively for the cable distribution of its channels since 2013 as part of the settlement. A total of €100 million is paid to Vodafone by ARD and ZDF.
German cable associations FRK and Deutsche Netzmarketing GmbH (DNMG) demand that ARD and ZDF treat small and medium-sized cable operators equally and also pay them carriage fees. FRK has referred the case to the Federal Cartel Office.
[UPDATE] 18.00 CET: A Unitymedia spokesman has confirmed to Broadband TV News that the payment of carriage fees are part of the new carriage contract: “ZDF and Unitymedia have reached a comprehensive and forward-looking agreement that goes far beyond the distribution of TV channels. In addition to the carriage of linear channels, the close cooperation will also include multimedia services and the support of non-linear convenience functions such as restart, reverse EPG etc. through Unitymedia’s Horizon platform.”
“Within the framework of the cooperation regarding the now agreed distribution of linear and non-linear programme offerings and the amicable termination of the years of litigation, ZDF is also paying a fee to Unitymedia,” the spokesman confirmed. “Please understand that we do not wish to comment further on contract details.”
ZDF declined to comment: “We ask for your understanding that we do not provide any information on the details of the agreements,” a ZDF spokeswoman told Broadband TV News.
The amount of carriage fees ZDF pays to Unitymedia is currently unknown, but – as in the case of ARD – is likely to be disclosed in the upcoming quarterly report of parent company Liberty Global.