As Norwegians warmed up for one of the biggest national football matches of the year on Tuesday evening, complaints were rising that very few of them would be able to watch it at home. Now the government is making moves to keep such matches away from the strictly pay-TV stations.
Tuesday’s match between the national football (soccer) squads of Norway and Denmark will help decide which teams will qualify to play in the European championships next year (Euro 2012). This is of critical importance and interest not only to diehard football fans but also to many others who may not follow professional football regularly, but enjoy the less-commercial competition among nations. It appeals to a sense of national pride.
The Norway-Denmark match, however, is only being aired in Norway on the expensive pay-TV station Canal+ Fotball. Neither Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) nor the nationwide commercial stations like TV2 won the rights to air the match, or could afford them, and those able to tune in the Danish TV station that’s airing the match in Denmark were disappointed as well. Cable TV providers in Norway were ordered to black out the Danish station, to preserve the viewing monopoly for which Canal+ Fotball reportedly has paid dearly.
Government stepping in
Norway’s government minister in charge of sports and culture, Anniken Huitfeldt of the Labour Party, is not pleased. She told website adressa.no that her staff is preparing a list of sporting events of national interest “where we think we can go in and meet the highest bid,” on the condition that the event will be aired on a “free channel.”
No such channel really exists in Norway, because everyone must pay an annual state license fee through NRK and the vast majority of households and businesses also pay for cable TV. But Huitfeldt’s definition of “free TV” includes nationwide channels that can be tuned in through the basic license fee, such as NRK, TV2, TVNorge and TV3.
Her list, soon to go out to public hearing, proposes that the so-called “free channels” would be ensured the possibility of buying TV rights at market price. State competition authorities are critical, though, because the rights no longer would be so exclusive. “This could have unfortunate consequences,” wrote competition authority Konkurransetilsynet in a pre-hearing statement. The state-financed channels could be viewed as being protected from competition from pay-TV channels, and that can affect the quality of the TV product, claims the authority.
Meanwhile, Norwegians were expected to try to get into local bars offering Canal+ Fotball, while others were traveling to Denmark, either because they were lucky enough to snare sought-after tickets to the match at Parken in Copenhagen, or simply to watch the match on Danish television. VG TV was offering an online alternative in return for payment, but many prefer to see a football on a bigger screen, and worry about server capacity that could break down under heavy demand.
“The simplest way to see the match between Norway and Denmark is actually to travel to Copenhagen,” wrote commentator Reidar Spigseth in newspaper Dagsavisen. “The TV alternative here is almost as expensive.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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