A deal struck between ATV and TVB a decade ago will make it impossible for either station to enter into a bilateral agreement now with iCable over London Olympics coverage, it emerged yesterday.
Details of the deal, which is 'legally binding and irrevocable', are contained in a report following an anti-competition investigation by the Office of the Communications Authority, or the then Broadcasting Authority.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by Cable Television, a subsidiary of iCable Communications, in 2002, which the authority found to be unsubstantiated.
The authority report shows that letters submitted by TVB state that their deal excluded the possibility for either of the free-to-air stations to negotiate and secure broadcasting rights to the Fifa World Cup or the Olympics between 2002 and 2012 from any event sponsor or licence holder.
Cable TV had alleged that the ATV-TVB deal prevented it from entering into a sub-licensing agreement with only one broadcaster for the World Cup in 2002, and it was forced to enter into a three-party deal that compromised its business.
It also accused ATV and TVB of violating the Broadcasting Ordinance, which prohibits the broadcasters from engaging in conduct that prevents, distorts or substantially restricts competition in the television programme services market.
However, the regulator rejected the accusation as it believed the deal had minimal impact on the viewers, and whether the purpose of the deal was to prejudice fair acquisition of the rights was out of the ambit of the ordinance.
Earlier iCable said it agreed in principle with ATV on the sub-licensing of coverage, but the free-to-air station then said copyright issues in Guangdong where it widely broadcasts remained a stumbling block to an agreement.
On Tuesday, iCable said the International Olympics Committee resolved the copyright issues. But on the same day TVB also said it was in talks with the IOC, while ATV said it terminated talks with iCable. On Wednesday, TVB said it would co-produce and co-broadcast with ATV if the IOC granted it the rights to the Games. ATV said it would actively engage in this offer.
Victor Hung Tin-yau, chief research and trade practice officer with the Consumer Council, said Cable TV might have grounds to lodge a fresh complaint due to the changing circumstances over the past decade.
Hung said it would be a problem if ATV and TVB abused their market position, and colluded in boycotting iCable in the sub-licensing arrangement for the Games. He believed that could become the subject of an investigation under the new Competition Ordinance, covering a much wider scope of conduct than the broadcasting laws.
All three broadcasters yesterday refused to comment on the issues.Topics: Asia Television Limited Television Broadcasts Limited Business