News / 02.03.2011

YLE crosses swords with commercial media over high definition broadcasts

Linus Atarah

The Federation of the Finnish Media Industry (Finnmedia) is at the throat of YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Finnmedia is opposed to YLE’s administrative board making an assessment of the commencement of high definition television broadcasts.

In protest, Finnmedia has therefore refused to participate in a questionnaire sent out by YLE in connection with the assessment.

Finnmedia, which represents commercial media including electronic and print media, says YLE’s procedure of how to conduct a pre-assessment of the future of launching a high definition service contravenes a European Commission directive.

According to that directive, member states should set up independent bodies to make an open pre-assessment of the likely negative impact of the plan of activities of public service broadcasters on commercial media. Finland has not done so, says Finnmedia, and the administrative board of YLE is not the kind of body referred to by the European Commission.

Finnmedia says YLE’s administrative board is not independent and therefore would not provide an objective assessment.

 “The administrative board of YLE is part of the decision-making process of the organizations and therefore it is not entirely independent”, said Marcus Wiklund, Senior Vice-President for Corporate Relations at Sanoma Entertainment, a member of Finnmedia.

However, Finnmedia is not against YLE launching high definition television broadcast service per se. Indeed, Petra Wikström Vice-President for Public Affairs at MTV3 says the commercial broadcasters have long had plans to launch high definition broadcast and it would be to their benefit that YLE is also involved in providing a similar service.

“Viewers will have to buy access cards in order to view high definition broadcasts therefore as major broadcaster, the participation of YLE will convince viewers that the extra expenses involved to acquire those cards is worthwhile”, say Wikström.

Last year MTV3 applied for license for high definition services but the ministry of transport and communication has not yet given its response, even though Wikström is confident that the permit will be granted.

Costs of distribution in the field of high definition broadcasting in Finland is yet clouded with uncertainties, says Wiklund. YLE has claimed that they will receive the distribution for free.  According to Wiklund,  YLE’s decision to launch the service should ensure transparency with no additional costs to commercial players as well as treating everyone equally in terms of the costs involved.

“For the viewers the reception of high definition broadcasts will in most cases require purchasing a separate conditional access module. Also a viewing card will be needed, if the transmissions are encrypted. This all involves costs. Even if the YLE HD channel seems to be free of charge for viewers, there is always a cost to be covered if not by YLE, then by someone else, says Wiklund, adding, “there are no free lunches”.

But Chairman of YLE’s administrative board Kimmo Sasi, says that Finnmedia may resist YLE’s assessment but it cannot halt it from going ahead with digital broadcasting, which is expected to begin sometime this year.

Finnish commercial media have consistently been at logger heads with state broadcaster YLE ever since broadcasting was deregulated in the 1980s, accusing it of overextending its remit. The latest dispute over assessing high definition broadcasts is part of that long-standing resistance against YLE’s dominance in the media market.

YLE is being pressured from all sides to cut back on sports and entertainment and rather concentrate on its cultural tasks, only filling in programming areas which commercial broadcasters are unable to, like a sort of “spare tire” as one journalist recently put it.

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