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With the clock set on the Brazilian government’s transition from analogue digital broadcasting, a process which started in 2016 and is scheduled to cover several phases until 2018 for the entire territory, a number of free-to-air TV stations have complained that the country’s main distributors – SKY Brasil (owned by AT&T/DirectTV), Net & Claro (owned by América Móvil) and Oi Telecomunication – are unfairly refusing to pay those broadcasters to carry their channels.
Recently, Brazil ́s federal law regulator – Economic Administrative Defense Council (CADE – Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica) – authorised a joint-venture company, Simba Content, formed by the three largest free-to-air TV Stations in Brazil to charge cable, satellite and telco distributors for carrying their digital signals.
However, the distribution platforms have resisted paying a fee for free-to-air TV stations. Meanwhile, satellite and cable company VIVO, which is owned by Telefónica, has been the only distributor to agree to negotiate for such an eventuality.
Marco Goncalves, from Simba Content who represents the three TV stations as RECORDTV, SBT and REDETV with up to 30 per cent share, said: “Contrary to what already happens around the world, these operators believe they should not pay anything for the signals they carry, even though they know these channels form the largest share in their audience rates. The free-to-air signal is free to our consumers who take our content directly into their TV sets. Yet, when a cable operator takes the same signal and content, markets it, advertises it and monetizes it and makes billions of dollars from our expensive produced content, and still believes they should not pay for it, it ́s not only unfair but rightly unlawful to say the least.”
Days before the switch-off, Simba Content warned customers from all three TV stations that a blackout was likely to take place as the operators are reluctant to accept any deal at all, even though they pay for international and some national stations already.
Well-known Brazilian actors and popular TV presenters have joined the cause of the TV stations, with many of them using their own private social media to protest against operators whom do not recognise their hard work and still disrespecting consumers at the same time.
What Simba Content describes as “an avalanche of callers” is flooding distributors’ call centres, demanding their contract be cancelled if the three TV stations leave their line-ups. An audio recording by a SKY customer reveals desperate attempts by the distributor to discourage the customer from cancelling their subscription. There have been reports where thousands of customers have already cancelled their subscriptions and many others submitting claims to legal authorities in order to have their distributor monthly fee reduced for no longer having access to their favourite shows and telenovelas from those TV Stations at their basic bundle.
In a TV interview, the Brazilian Federal Lawyers Council [Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil] (OAB) is said to be keeping a close eye on this issue and advised consumers to report distributors that are infringing their rights. Simba Content suggests that operators in Brazil are playing a “dangerous” game, where millions of Brazilian consumers are bound to see the distributors as villains, followed by a confrontation with a federal entity (CADE) which has already authorised the TV stations to charge for their digital signal.