CytaVision, the digital television service operated by the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority, said on Tuesday that it was obligated to follow new Premier League rules, after it got hundreds of calls from viewers complaining about fewer football games and the absence of English commentary.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, CytaVision sources acknowledged they could have done a better job informing the public of the new regime ahead of time.
But the same sources said the provider did hold a meeting with sports journalists about a fortnight ago in Nicosia, relying on the reporters to spread the word.
Under the new Premier League directives, for the current 2016-2019 cycle, local providers in the European Economic Area may broadcast live 168 Premier League matches per season.
Additionally, they are allowed to show live another 32 games per season.
The time slots allotted to CytaVision (UK time) are 12:45pm, 3pm and 5.30pm on Saturdays (one game per time slot), one game at 1.30pm and another at 4pm on Sundays, plus the Friday and Monday evening games.
On top of that, under the new restrictions providers in the EU outside the UK and Ireland may broadcast the same team a maximum of 29 times per season.
Apparently, all hell broke loose at the CytaVision call centre last Saturday when the provider screened the Watford v Chelsea match rather than Burney v Liverpool.
“Football fans in Cyprus basically want to watch three clubs: Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. Last weekend we made the call not to show the Liverpool game because we figured we could ‘save’ that Liverpool slot for some future date, since Liverpool have a chance of contending for the title, making their future games potentially more important,” one source said.
“It’s a question of micro-managing the 29-game restriction per team, and decisions have to be made on a week-by-week basis.”
The same rules apply throughout the EU.
The new Premier League diktats are a reaction to a landmark case in 2011, when the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of a pub landlady in Portsmouth who bought games through a Greek satellite broadcaster, rather than through Sky, for a much cheaper price.
Instead of using Sky, on which it cost £700 a month to see Premier League matches, she used the Greek TV station Nova, which had the rights to screen the games in Greece, and which cost her £800 a year.
Moreover, the Nova broadcasts featured English commentary.
CytaVision acquired the exclusive broadcasting rights for the Premier League from LTV in early 2014. At the time, even though the new Premier League rules were in force, Cyprus and Malta managed to get an exemption, falling under the radar, so to speak, due to the small size of those markets.
But under pressure from Sky, which has invested hundreds of millions for the rights, the Premier League later tightened up the rules, and Cyprus lost the exemption.
According to the sources, CytaVision fought hard to keep the previous regime in place, which had allowed the broadcasting of up to 380 games per season, with English commentary.
As a result, CytaVision has had to re-jig its packages and pricing. The monthly rate for the SportsPlus package has been reduced to €45 from €56 previously.
“We tried to tell them [the Premier League] that a large chunk of our viewers in Cyprus are English-speaking expats, we said for example that English is widely spoken on the island. They wouldn’t budge.”
The rules state that in order for English commentary to be allowed in an EU country other than the UK and Ireland, that country must list English as an official language in its constitution.
In Cyprus, the official languages are Greek and Turkish.
Malta’s constitution, however, does list English as an official language and therefore is still allowed to offer English commentary.
“We have to abide by the rules, there’s no other way,” the same sources said.
But they also recognised that they had known that the rules would not be ‘bent’ for Cyprus several months ago, meaning they could have better informed the public.