A recent change in the Romanian Audiovisual law, which was made via an Emergency Government Ordinance and without offering it for public debate made headlines in the local media. The several changes in the law will most likely trigger changes on the market, affecting media owners, advertising agencies and cable companies.
One of the changes, which at a first sight is meaningless, could have a huge impact on the Romanian media market. Generalist TV stations are no longer considered ‘services with a significant weight in shaping public opinion’. Only news, analysis and political and economic TV stations were kept in this category. The Romanian law does not allow owners of TV stations which shape the public opinion to control more than 30 percent of the market. They have to either change their shareholder structure, or give up one of their channels. Media analysts say this change may allow the Voiculescu family to exceed the 30 percent threshold, as only the group’s TV station Antena 3 will be taken into account, and not Antena 1, which is a general programing TV station.
The new emergency ordinance takes away advertising agencies’ rights to freely negotiate with advertising clients and with TV channels, making it mandatory to show at the same time the prices and tariffs of both sides involved in the deal.
Cable distributors are also affected by the changes. They are now obliged to ensure the same quality of the signal to all of their subscribers, and if not, they are to pay fines. In this case, the fines are to be paid immediately, which would be an exception, as the new rule is that the Audiovisual watchdog CNA will no longer be immediately enforced, but they will be paid only after the court issues a final decision on the appeal submitted by the company which had to pay the fine.
Pundits say it is technically impossible for cable companies to ensure the same quality of signal to all subscribers. Cable companies will also have to organize their program list based strictly on the average audience in the previous year, which will likely trigger an even bigger fight for audience between Romanian TV stations, as they will not only need to sell more advertising, but make sure they continue to be carried by cable providers.
A similar attempt to change the law was made three weeks ago, when the change was included on the Government meeting agenda, but in the end it was not discussed. In the Tuesday Government meeting, the project was approved, even though it had not been included in the agenda meeting.
(photo source: sxc.hu)