Very quietly, behind the scenes, a battle of giants is underway over a piece of the national commercials pie. The cable television providers HOT and Yes want to begin broadcasting commercials on the hundreds of channels they offer - but commercial channels 2 and 10 are opposed. They don't want any other parties taking a bite out of the commercial pie from which they earn a living.
The motivating force behind this "reform" is actually the budget division of the Finance Ministry. It plans to convince Yes and HOT to provide a cheap and limited package of channels, and in exchange they will receive two rewards: commercials and a reduction in royalty payments.
Although the time has come to do something about the overpriced "basic packages" offered by HOT and Yes, why reward them?
Both companies sell the customers a basic package that are among the most expensive in the world. The user pays about NIS 200 a month for a package of about 70 channels, the vast majority of which he never watches. In the United States a similar package costs NIS 130, in Belgium NIS 140, in Ireland and Holland NIS 150, and in England only NIS 30.
This is not the first time the budget division has tried to force HOT and Yes to provide cheap and limited packages. This is what led it to promote the "digital converter" initiative, with which it is now possible to watch the five public channels - 1, 2, 10, 23 and 99 - without being a Yes or HOT subscriber. This service is provided in return for a one-time payment of NIS 450.
The idea was that the moment the digital converter came onto the market, Yes and HOT would be forced to sell a limited package of 10 to 15 channels for the low price of about NIS 90 a month - in order to prevent the loss of customers. But that hasn't happened because the two providers understood that, in return for agreeing to a limited package, they could extort from the treasury both the introduction of commercials and a reduction in royalties.
This is a mistake on the part of the budget division. It should not have linked a limited package with commercials. It should have intervened in the market and forced Yes and HOT to provide the public with limited packages reasonably, not exorbitantly, priced - because this is a non-competitive market, a market controlled by only two companies.
The treasury should have continued in the direction it began with the creation of the digital converter. There is no reason to make do with five channels when the digital converter can transmit 10. Technological progress must not be halted due to pressure from wealthy businessmen. Nobody is saying the Internet should be restricted because newspaper owners are harmed. Nobody is saying the development of solar energy should be halted because it harms the oil companies. Therefore, in the same way, there should be no restriction on the digital converter. Permission to transmit dozens of channels through it, not only five, should be granted. Then Yes and HOT would understand that it is worth their while to offer a limited package - because if they don't, their customers will simply leave.
The attitude of the treasury is also surprising in light of the fact that the government is trying very hard to keep Channel 10 alive. It is waiving prior commitments and enabling the channel to continue to broadcast without a new tender. If this is the case, how can the Finance Ministry help a channel with one hand and with the other deliver it a death blow by granting Yes and HOT a license to broadcast commercials?
There is a great deal of logic in the present structure of TV broadcasts. We pay for the public channel, Channel 1, by means of a licensing fee. We pay for the two commercial channels by watching commercials. We pay for cable television with monthly subscription fees. In that case, why allow Yes and HOT to enjoy both worlds, both subscription fees and revenues from advertisements?
An examination conducted by the Cable and Satellite Council indicated that the cost of the limited package would amount to NIS 90, but most subscribers would choose to purchase about another 10 channels for an additional charge. Therefore the overall cost will be NIS 190 per subscriber. What have we gained here? Will we all pay the same price and suffer through commercials as well?
There is no reason to increase the brainwashing the public is already subject to on the two commercial channels. Sometimes it seems more time is devoted to commercials and previews than the programs themselves. How much more can we watch Mega Bool celebrate its first anniversary and Supersol Deal celebrate its fifth?
And how much more can we hear about L'Oreal Paris, which with the aid of a simple cream smoothes the skin on our necks and tautens our face? And of course there's Bezeq, with high-speed surfing, and Strauss and Osem and Ikea and the desire for Opticana eyeglasses. You can go crazy from the endless repetition of the same annoying commercials.
And now, according to the treasury's proposal, will we be subject to all those ads on Channel 8, Yes Docu, National Geographic, the film channels, the family channels and the sports channels too? That would be the ultimate in brainwashing. Help!
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