Weko suspects foul play by UPC against Swisscom for ice hockey games on TV

The Federal Competition Commission (Comco) suspects foul play by UPC against Swisscom in the broadcasting of Swiss ice hockey matches on pay TV. The competition watchdogs have identified indications of cartel violations and have therefore opened an investigation.

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UPC could have a dominant position in the broadcasting of ice hockey games on pay-TV from the coming season and could possibly abuse this position, the Weko announced in a communiqué on Tuesday. In particular, the Weko is investigating whether UPC is unjustifiably withholding ice hockey broadcasts from its non-cable network competitors.

Swisscom had taken legal action after UPC had refused to allow Swisscom to broadcast ice hockey matches. UPC had bought the broadcasting rights at auction last summer for five years. From the coming 2017/2018 season, UPC will broadcast the games of the Swiss ice hockey leagues via its new sports TV channel MySports.

Swisscom has been left out in the cold. UPC has only submitted the signal to the Swiss cable network operators. This means that 1.5 million Swisscom customers will be left out in the cold from next season.

Not the first Weko case

This is UPC's tit-for-tat response to Swisscom. Its subsidiary Teleclub previously held the rights to broadcast ice hockey matches on pay-TV. For years, it had given cable network competitors and other TV providers such as Sunrise access to ice hockey matches, but only to a reduced extent. In addition, their customers had to pay more than for Swisscom TV.

In the Weko's view, Swisscom abused its dominant position in the past in the live broadcasting of Swiss football and ice hockey matches on pay-TV. For this reason, the Weko imposed a fine of almost CHF 72 million on Swisscom in 2016. Swisscom rejects the accusations and has moved on from the ruling. It argues that it only wanted to protect its high investments by withholding certain games from the competition. In addition, Swisscom subsidiary Teleclub had already made an offer to all Swiss TV platform providers last year to put the full sports offering on air. However, the cable network operators have so far refrained from making use of this offer.

The tables are turned

UPC has now turned the tables. The company does not want to offer Swisscom the auctioned rights under any circumstances. With MySports, they want to break Swisscom/Teleclub's long-standing monopoly in the sports sector, the cable network operator explained. To this end, UPC is investing a large sum in the millions. To protect this investment, the MySports signal will not be passed on to Swisscom. UPC has signed distribution agreements with over a dozen TV providers for the passing on of MySports. Further partners may be added in the future.

This is now being scrutinised by the Weko: such exclusive agreements could create a dominant position which UPC could abuse in its favour, the competition watchdogs announced. This could hinder UPC's competitors. "We welcome the Weko's decision to open an investigation into UPC's ice hockey broadcasts on pay-TV," Swisscom spokesman Sepp Huber explained when asked: "We demand fair play from UPC and are fighting to ensure that our customers can continue to watch Swiss league ice hockey in the future."

In its order of last year, the Weko requires that everyone has equal access to the sports offers, Huber explained. "For reasons of equal treatment, this requirement also applies to UPC.

UPC considers itself to be in the right

The situation today is not comparable with the past, UPC counters in a statement. Swisscom used to monopolise all sports content in Switzerland and used it in a discriminatory manner. UPC, on the other hand, only owns individual rights and treats all 14 distribution partners equally.

"We are therefore convinced that the investigation will be in our favour and that the exclusive transmission via the various cable networks will prove to be unproblematic," UPC announced.

Decision on precautionary measures soon

In its complaint, Swisscom had also requested precautionary measures from the Comco so that it can already broadcast ice hockey games in the coming season and does not have to wait until the investigation is over. A decision on precautionary measures will be taken in the next few weeks, Weko director Rafael Corazza said on request. (Johannes Brinkmann/SDA)

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