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Telia chief takes aim at streaming future as TV4 dispute reignites

Nordic telco Telia aims to is “determined that we will make sure that TV4 and C More…can be viewed by everyone” as part of its strategy to bring its TV assets from last year’s acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting to “more people”, according to CEO Christian Luiga.

Christian Luiga

Speaking to analysts after Telia posted its year-end results, Luiga said that “we all see that the value chain of TV media will change over the coming years”. Referring to TV4’s spat with Tele2-owned cable rival Com Hem, which saw the TV4 channels temporarily disappear from Com Hem’s screens last year, Luiga said that negotiations in future would be “a value chain discussion” rather than a “commercial discussion”.

“Traditional TV will be replaced by other ways of viewing, new technologies and other ways that content providers work with their IP rights. This is a fact. There’s nothing that will change that. It’s about how we adapt to that and how we work with that,” said Luiga.

“The more views we can get, the better it will be for consumer and for Telia shareholders. So there’s no other view, from Telia’s point of view, to make it available to as many as possible.”

Conflict between Com Hem and Telia has reignited in recent days over the terms of the latter’s current auction of streaming rights to TV4 channels.

Com Hem has notified the European Commission’s ‘monitoring trustee’, mandated to monitor Telia’s compliance with EC conditions for its approval of Bonnier Broadcasting, that it believes Telia is restricting competition in the market by bundling more streaming rights in the auction than the EC intended.

Under the conditions imposed on Telia by the EC as part of its approval of the telco’s acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting, TV4 must license streaming rights to at least one distributor in each of the two markets in which it operates, Sweden and Finland,Telia already holds streaming rights to the channels.

Last year, TV4 CEO Casten Almqvist has blamed what he described as Com Hem’s insistence on including OTT TV rights as part of a carriage deal for the breakdown in talks between the pair that saw TV4’s channels disappear from the Com Hem platform.

Luiga, who at the time said it was not his place to get involved in the dispute, said in the earning call that “not locking in TV4 with anyone” was now key to Telia’s strategy.

Luiga said that 2019 had been “a peak year” for TV4, Sweden’s leading commercial broadcaster, Finnish channel MTV and pay TV outfit C More, which saw direct viewers increase by 30%..

EBITDA for the broadcasting assets increased from SEK1.2 billion (€113 million) to SEK1.5 billion, with cashflow amounting to SEK500 million. Luiga said that cashflow would be “a little bit down” as a result of the battle with Com Hem had, which has had an adverse impact on advertising and income.