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Retransmission row: Sky threatens to drop RTÉ

USky is threatening to drop Irish public broadcaster RTÉ from their Irish services if they are no longer able to get them for free.

In the UK, the main channels such as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are no longer charged any money for carriage on Sky following changes in legislation over so-called 'retransmission fees'. In some circumstances, broadcasters like ITV are now allowed to charge platform operators for carriage. Over in the Irish Republic, RTÉ wants the same treatment.

During the summer, RTÉ submitted a report by media advisory company Mediatique to the Oireachtas communications committee. It suggested that it should be able to charge Sky €19 million a year, and Virgin €11 million, for carriage of its channels. The report also carried audience research that indicated that a large portion of Sky and Virgin subscribers would ditch the pay TV platforms if the main Irish channels were no longer included.

In an Irish parliamentary committee session yesterday, Sky and Virgin indicated they would rather drop RTÉ than pay up. A number of Irish media outlets are reporting the outcome of the committee today, with quoting Sky’s director of policy and public affairs David Wheeldon who emphatically stated that the Rupert Murdoch owned company would not pay for RTÉ. He said: “There are no circumstances that we would change our approach and make payments for a free-to-air channel”.

The Irish Sun reports that Virgin Media Ireland would pass the cost of receiving RTÉ channels to customers.

In 2015, RTÉ and Sky signed a long-term deal that led to the inclusion of catch-up content from RTÉ and additional TV channels on Sky Ireland.

RTÉ is encrypted on Sky's Astra 2 satellite platform due to rights restrictions, limiting reception of the channels to Sky card holders in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, meaning the arguments for and against payments from or to Sky are different to those in the UK, where the main broadcasters are carried free-to-air regardless of Sky. Additionally, in Northern Ireland, some events and shows are blanked out using Sky's system. It is understood that RTÉ has to pay for this service.  RTÉ offers access to its channels on a free-to-air basis via a separate satellite service called Saorsat that can only be received on the island of Ireland and the western most fringes of Wales and the Westcountry. Saorsat does not offer any access to any commercial channels and is mostly intended for viewers can can't receive the free-to-air terrestrial service Soarview. When BT took over the Champions League rights for the UK, viewers reported that RTÉ blacked out coverage on Saorsat, believed to be due to the signal's overspill into Northern Ireland - This highlights the issues faced by RTÉ should it wish to complete sidestep Sky's encryption system to reach viewers by satellite.