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Commission finds Spain’s support for private TV broadcasters in breach of EU rules

The European Commission has found that a Spanish scheme compensating terrestrial private broadcasters for carrying out parallel broadcasting during the digitisation of the terrestrial television signal is in breach of EU state aid rules. As no aid has been granted yet, no recovery will be required.

The switch from analogue to digital broadcasting released radio frequency spectrum previously used for TV broadcasting (the so called “digital dividend”). In this context, Spain imposed a “simulcast” obligation on broadcasters, requiring them to broadcast both analogue and digital signals during the transitional period, in order to avoid service disruptions for viewers.

In 2011, the Spanish authorities notified plans to compensate broadcasters for additional costs incurred due to this “simulcast” obligation. In April 2012, the Commission opened an in-depth state aid investigation. In the course of the investigation, Spain withdrew part of the notification concerning public broadcasters, as compensation in their favour was already granted as part of their public service mission; the investigation continued solely for private broadcasters. Today’s decision therefore concerns only them.

The Commission’s investigation confirmed that Spain’s support for the transition from analogue to digital TV broadcasting was offered only to digital terrestrial (DTT) broadcasters to the detriment of alternative platforms, such as satellite, cable or IPTV (TV over Internet Protocol). Spain did not substantiate why the principle of technological neutrality would not be justified in this case. Any exception to this principle would have to be duly justified, for example, on the basis of an ex ante independent study, combined with a market consultation, demonstrating the efficiency of the DTT platform over alternative platforms.

Spain also failed to demonstrate that public support for the frequency reallocation was needed to ensure a smooth transfer from analogue to digital broadcasting. On the contrary, the Commission found that private broadcasters would have ensured simulcast in any event, so as not to lose viewers. Moreover, Spain provided no evidence, such as an independent cost study, showing that the aid was proportionate.

Therefore, the Commission concluded that the measure selectively favoured terrestrial broadcasters as well as platform operators to the detriment of broadcasters and operators representing alternative platforms and thereby distorted competition in the Single Market. As no aid has been granted yet, no recovery will be required.

Spain has now completed the frequency switch and private broadcasters have ensured and financed the simulcast proactively, with no state aid having been needed or granted.