Leading European free-to-air TV broadcaster RTL Group has written to Germany’s competition regulator expressing concern over the purchase of Deutsche Telekom’s German cable-TV network assets by American group Liberty Media.

The US cable firm agreed to buy Telekom’s cable-TV business for E5.5 billion in September [WAMN: 05-Sep-01], the deal now being subject to regulatory approval. Liberty stands to gain six regional cable companies spanning 12 of the nation’s sixteen Lander, making it Germany’s largest cable operator with 20m subscribers.

RTL is concerned about Liberty’s ownership of both distribution networks and content. “We should not forget that Liberty is acquiring regional monopolies here,” said the broadcaster. “While this situation has existed in the past, the gatekeeper never had content in its pocket before.”

It is worried that Liberty will introduce ‘basic’ and ‘premium’ cable packages, as opposed to the current situation whereby Germans pay a single monthly charge for over thirty channels. RTL fears that Liberty could use its own content to relegate rivals to less popular packages – making them less attractive to advertisers – or even displace them from its offerings altogether.

“We have one of the broadest and richest television landscapes in Europe,” continued RTL. “We must ensure viewer access to advertising-financed, free-to-air channels remains unrestricted.”

Such hostility from broadcasters is expected to prompt the cartel office to impose conditions on the deal. A decision is slated for January 5.

News source: Financial Times