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Cyfrowy Polsat under investigation over charging for football

Cyfrowy Polsat, Poland’s leading DTH operator with 3.5 million subscribers, is being investigated by the country’s regulator KRRiT for showing via pay-per-view two football matches involving the national team in September 2012.

The regulator stated that this may have been in breach of the country’s Broadcasting Act, which ensures free to air access to certain events including national football games. The matches concerned were qualifiers for the FIFA 2014 World Cup against Montenegro and Moldova and so look like they would be considered of national interest.

But, Cyfrowy Polsat is arguing that it decided to show the matches on a pay-per-view basis because the public broadcaster TVP had failed to reach an agreement with the rights holder to broadcast them FTA (Free To Air).

The operator also pointed out that it had never before received objections to pay-per-view broadcasts, which have been made in Poland for some years.

These points may be irrelevant, though, if the content concerned is considered to be covered by the Broadcasting Act. There are similar provisions for certain sporting events in other European countries, such as the UK, where the Wimbledon tennis championships have to be shown FTA on terrestrial TV by government mandate. Such rules tend to be rather arbitrary and inconsistent, given that the so called "Ashes" cricket matches between England and Australia are just as much part of the national heritage, and yet are not protected, being available only pay-per-view from Sky.

In Poland, Cyfrowy Polsat is almost as dominant as Sky is in the UK, ending 2012 with 3.57 million subscribers, 0.4-percent more than a year earlier. Its churn rate fell by 1.2 percent to 8.6 percent over the same period, while ARPU rose 5.4 percent to PLN39.3 (€9.5). Given its position, the regulator will be keen to ensure that it is not abusing its power over major sporting events.