Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Right to Watch

Football, malheuresement, is entertainment, Don Revie be damned. As such, we are expected to pay for it. Fine.

However, the increasingly arbitrary manner by which television rights for football are awarded in Europe from one year to another is costing fans a lot more than their monthly satellite subscription.

Take this little gem from the Guardian a couple days back. Apparently Silvio Berlusconi, supposed champion of neoliberal, free-market values, moved his cabinet to double VAT (value-added tax) on Rupert Murdoch's Sky Italia, his direct business competitor.

While I'm certainly no fan of Murdoch, who's on the same footing as Berlusconi in terms of ruthlessness but without the advantage of being prime minister of a large first-world nation, Sky Italia won the rights to Serie A and has been growing steadily in Italy ever since. This year they posted a profit for the first time. So, realizing competition might actually threaten his personal business interests with regard to his Mediaset company, Berlusconi arbitrarily reversed a tax break initially designed to promote more competition. In effect, he's asking Italian Sky subscribers to pay up to protect his own company, at a time when Serie A is struggling to gain an audience outside of Italy, let alone within its own homes.

So what did Sky do in response? They made a direct appeal to viewers through presenter Ilaria D'Amico (and let's just say I find her quite...convincing), explaining how Berlusconi ambushed four million Italian household subscribers at a time of economic crisis.

When you have to sit through a multi-million dollar telecast make an appeal for equal treatment in the market as if they were PBS, when you can't even watch Serie A in the football-mad United Kingdom because of failed negotiations over TV rights, when individual web-streamers are threatened with a barrage of litigation for turning on a webcam, you know things have gone a bit too far.

Methinks Serie A will ultimately take the fall as the market implodes and threatened businessmen everywhere, whether taxman Berlusconi or 'think-of-the-children' Murdoch, suddenly find their inner socialist.


ursus arctos said...

It looks like the EU is going to save us from this particular outrage, as it seems quite clear that European law does not allow for the kind of discrimination among competing businesses that Silvio and his minions would like to enact.

And yes, "la D'Amico" is spectacular.

A. said...

I was wondering where D'Amico had gone after "la grande giostra dei gol" (she was worth the price of RAI International subscription alone!). So she went and sold her soul to the devil (a benevolent one in this instance)?!

ursus arctos said...

It is difficult to characterise Sky Italia as diabolical given who controls the competition.

And D'Amico also works for other outlets, particularly La 7 (which is controlled by Telecom Italia), where she fronts an occasional 60 Minutes-type show.

A. said...

That maybe true but this is still Murdoch we're talking about here, Ursus.

ursus arctos said...

I know, I know.

For me it's like when Juve and Real Madrid get drawn in the same CL group . . .