Please do not adjust your screen: the bTV-Bulsatcom battle
Conspiracy theories, appeals to European and Bulgarian national institutions, the inevitable satirical clip rewriting Adolf Hitler’s dialogue in the film Downfall…it must be a Bulgarian commercial dispute. In this case, one that has endured for weeks between television station bTV and satellite operator Bulsatcom.
The dispute has kept bTV off the screens of Bulsatcom subscribers for several weeks, apart from a return at the height of the Festive Season which the television station described as a gesture to its loyal viewers.
BTV alleges that Bulsatcom has failed to pay the fees due to it and has been deliberately inaccurate in stating the number of viewers of bTV’s various channels. Bulsatcom rejects these allegations, including the one that it has been under-reporting bTV’s viewership.
Bulsatcom said that its subscribers would be charged reduced rates while they were unable to watch bTV’s channels. After the dispute became public and gained momentum, another privately-owned station, TV7, also got into a dispute with Bulsatcom on the same issue.
Several episodes in the drama have got prominent coverage in the Bulgarian-language media, especially given bTV’s place, according to the ratings, as one of the country’s most-watched channels. One Bulgarian media report waggishly said that it seemed odd in spite of the fact that bTV was off so many screens, its ratings seemed to be unaffected.
The matter was referred to the Council for Electronic Media, the body created by statute to oversee Bulgaria’s broadcast media, which washed its hands of the matter, saying that commercial disputes were not its business. Other Bulgarian institutions to which one party or both have appealed appeared to have taken the same line or were poised to.
BTV and Bulsatcom each also have appealed to European institutions to intervene.
In an election year, and against the background of manoeuvres, commercial contests and changes of ownership elsewhere in Bulgaria’s print and broadcast media, social networks and internet forums were cluttered with commentaries on the issue, particularly from the point of view of finding a political connection – and especially after pro-government TV7 got into the mix.
The clutter became a cacophony when, on January 9, fraud squad police raided the office of TV+, turning up on payday as journalists were receiving their salaries. Reportedly, the police were following up a tipoff by a former TV+ employee about alleged tax evasion. However, reports were quick to link the raid to the Bulsatcom drama, given popular perceptions that Bulsatcom is the actual owner of TV+ (which the rules would not allow it to be and which company registration records do not show, instead recording BG Sat as the owner of TV+) – and that, according to the online buzz among conspiracy theorists, TV7 and bTV were sufficiently well-connected to the authorities to arrange to drop tax authorities and police on targets of their choice. The Sofia city prosecutor’s office told local media that the tax evasion investigation was a routine one.
Meanwhile, the dispute could act to the benefit of Vivacom, which also is in the business of providing television channels, and bTV has been suggesting that subscribers to Bulsatcom defect to Vivacom. In its campaign, bTV has quoted research by two agencies that alleges that some satellite television providers under-report the numbers of their subscribers.
Negotiations between bTV and Bulsatcom were reported to be continuing while TV7 had given the satellite television company until January 11 to accept its conditions.
For anyone genuinely missing the chance to watch bTV, there was at least the consolation of what by now must be the most-reworked scene in film history, that of Hitler descending it furious hysteria as his Reich crumbles, being presented online with new subtitles portraying the Fuehrer as enraged by the loss of the chance to watch his two favourite BTV newsreaders and the station’s smorgasbord of cheap Turkish serials.