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Polish pay-TV turmoil continues with DTH platform customer complaints

New Polish DTH platform nc+ now looks like it may cave in to pressure from customers to reduce the price of some channels, after heavy criticism following its formation from the merger of the two operators n and Cyfra.

While the nc+ platform immediately gained 15,000 new additional subscribers in the week following its launch on March 21, it ran into a barrage of customer complaints that new packages comprising channels formerly distributed by n and Cyfra+ were too expensive.

Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) has confirmed receipt of complaints from customers over pricing of the new services, but said it was too early to say whether these would lead to formal action. The main complaint has been that customers have been automatically switched to the new service and put on a new contract lasting 18 months rather than the current 15 months, requiring them to pay higher subscription fees.

Initially, Julian Verley, the platform’s president, was defiant and said he had no intention of changing the offer, comprising six packages ranging in price from PLN39 (€9.35 ) to PLN199 a month. But he then softened his stance, admitting that reaction of customers had greatly exceeded expectations and that nc+ would respond to the criticisms. He acknowledged mistakes in explaining the new packages to customers and said that nc+ was taking the complaints seriously, with a promise to respond within a few days. Meanwhile, it was mollifying customers coming from both n and Cyfra+ with some special Easter offers.

NC+ was formed by the merger of n and Cyfra+ and officially made its debut on Thursday, March 21, with around 2.5 million subscribers.

Elsewhere, Cyfrowy Polsat, Poland’s leading DTH operator with 3.5 million subscribers, has been mired in a different controversy, under investigation by the country’s regulator KRRiT for showing two football matches involving the national team via pay-per-view 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.

This has all come at a time of transformation for Polish pay TV as a whole. There has been a swing from cable TV to satellite there as in many other countries, with Cyfrowy Polsat, n and Cyfra + (now nc+) rising between them from 4.8 million subscribers, or 34.3 percent of the market, to 5.3 million, or 37.9 percent, by the end of 2012. Two thirds of the 500,000 gained came over from the cable sector, which was down to 4.6 million.

However, the country’s transition to digital broadcasting, due to be completed by July 2013, comprising three DTT multiplexes, will be a threat to the whole pay TV sector.