Cyfrowy Polsat handed hefty €8m fine in ARD-ZDF Euro 2016 probe

Cyfrowy Polsat, the Polish pay-television operator, has been issued with a fine of PLN34.9m (€8.1m/$9.1m) by Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) after dropping German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF from its decoder menu during Euro 2016.

The regulator has handed down the punishment – which Cyfrowy Polsat has one month to appeal – after finding that Cyfrowy Polsat had “used practices that undermine the collective interests of consumers”.

Explaining its ruling, the UOKiK said today (Friday) that the ARD and ZDF channels showing live Euro 2016 matches (with German commentary) were removed from the automatic list of Polsat’s basic digital channels on the seventh day of the tournament.

That move was, according to the regulator, designed to drive Polish viewers to sign up to Euro 2016 coverage on Polsat Sport’s encrypted channels. The removal of the channels from slots 470 and 471 on the Polsat decoders “deliberately hindered access to broadcasts to encourage consumers to take advantage of the company’s offer”, the UOKiK added.

Marek Niechcial, the UOKiK president, said: “The lack of reliable information about the changes made and alternative ways to access ZDF and Das Erste [ARD] channels caused confusion among consumers. Many of them might not have known that they could still watch matches for free.

“Therefore, they could have unnecessarily spent money. Our decision is intended to signal to companies that such actions are unacceptable.”

ARD and ZDF held broadcast rights to 45 of the 51 matches from Euro 2016.

At the time, international broadcasters (notably beIN Sports) continued to be angered by the satellite overspill of ZDF, with the channel’s unencrypted signal received via Astra and Hot Bird satellites, thus enabling viewers outside of Germany to watch.

In Poland, the Euro 2016 rights were split between public broadcaster TVP and Polsat.

TVP ensured free-to-air coverage of 11 matches, including the opening game, Poland’s matches at the tournament, both semi-finals and the final. A total of 24 matches were also shown on Polsat’s free-to-air channel, but all 51 matches were offered live on the pay-television Polsat Sport channels.

Customers signing up to the Polsat Sport channels would have had to pay PLN79 per month or shell out PLN99 for the standalone Euro 2016 package.

The ARD and ZDF channels were still available to Cyfrowy Polsat customers who knew how to manually enter the appropriate frequencies for the channels. However, the UOKiK stated that the pay-TV operator did not inform consumers about this possibility.

The UOKiK stressed that the decision is not final and that Cyfrowy Polsat has right to an appeal.