The complex argument between Europe’s two satellite giants, Luxembourg-based SES Astra and Paris-based Eutelsat, first reported on advanced-television.com October 6, is already straining relations between the two players, and could escalate to a position where UK broadcasters are potentially affected.
In essence, the dispute is over contested transmission rights at the 28.2 degrees East (which SES Astra uses) and the adjacent 28.5 degrees East position (which Eutelsat has traditionally used). The use of the same digital frequencies from both satellite positions would result in interference and an unacceptable signal for viewers.
SES Astra says it intends broadcasting from its position next October using an agreement signed with Germany’s Media Broadcast. Eutelsat’s position is that it holds the rights, negotiated with Deutsche Telekom back in 1999. “The launch of a new [Astra] satellite last month doesn’t change anything,” explains Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor. While admitting that the grounds for the dispute are very complex, she said that Eutelsat did not see the problem as an “argument, but as defending the right the right to use frequencies based on agreements signed in 1999.”
O’Connor also stated that the disagreement is subject to arbitration initiated in April 2011 at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. Besides, she says, their original agreement with Deutsche Telekom was not time-sensitive and had no ‘end date’.
SES Astra, in its statement, says it is not a party to the arbitration. It states that the rights to the disputed spectrum were acquired by means of an agreement signed with the rights holder, Media Broadcast, in 2005. Media Broadcast is owned by France’s TDF Group.
There are further complications, and these concern those broadcasters who have firm contracts that currently end up on Eutelsat’s desk. While the contracts might be between an individual broadcaster and third-party players such as Arqiva, or BT, or others, everyone is clear as to the final supplier of capacity. Should Eutelsat lose its ‘rights’, then there might be some very happy lawyers ready to step in and argue their expensive cases.
This was certainly the view of one UK broadcaster, speaking at MIPCOM on the grounds of anonymity, saying: “This would be truly catastrophic,” he said, “and would completely alter everything that we understand. I am not at all sure where this could end up. Most of us are locked into long-term contracts. What would happen to them?”
The argument between SES Astra and Eutelsat over this position has been long-running, and goes back to the days when Deutsche Telekom operated its own (Kopernikus) satellite at the 28.5 degrees East slot. Eutelsat admits that some of its satellites operate from positions where the rights to the slot are held by third parties, but this is common in the industry.