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Kabel Deutschland suffers reverse in pubcaster row

A Munich court has ruled that Vodafone-owned German cable operator Kabel Deutschland must continue to broadcast public educational channel ARD-alpha in analogue in its Bavarian network, following legal action by ARD Bavarian affiliate Bayerischer Rundfunk.

Kabel Deutschland had tried to remove the channel, formerly BR-alpha, from its line-up as part of its campaign to pressurise Germany’s public broadcasters to pay retransmission fees and had secured approval from local Bavarian media regulator the BLM.

However BR responded by applying to the Munich Administrative Court, which has upheld its appeal and ordered the cable operator to distribute the channel in analogue pending a final ruling.

Kabel Deutschland had made a case that the channel’s change of name invalidated its must-carry status, but the court ruled that the content had not changed significantly.

Kabel Deutschland has already removed ARD-alpha from its nets in other states and its final status will remain uncertain until the dispute is resolved.

The ruling is the latest twist in a long-running dispute between cable, led by Kabel Deutschland, and the country’s public broadcasters. In June, the Supreme Court, the Bundesgerichtshof, reversed an earlier lower court ruling that broadcasters Südwestrundfunk and BR’s termination of their feeds to the cable operator at the end of 2012 was legal and sent the matter back to the appeal courts in Stuttgart and Munich.

The matter of whether ARD and ZDF affiliates are required to pay for must-carry retransmission remains undecided.

Barbara Nickel, deputy general counsel for the broadcaster, said that BR welcomed the latest decision, which was “in the interest of our viewers” and had secured retransmission of the channel in Bavaria until further notice.