The European Commission has approved under EU state aid rules a €7 million aid scheme supporting parallel analogue and digital broadcasting during the transition to digital TV in Slovakia. The Commission found that the measure would not give rise to a disproportionate distortion of competition and was in line with EU state aid rules, because it was technologically neutral and limited to the minimum necessary.
Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia commented: "I commend the Slovak authorities for supporting the parallel analogue operation without unduly distorting competition. This is a further step towards the digitisation of broadcasting in Europe."
Under the scheme, broadcasters and network operators who fulfil certain criteria defined by the Slovak authorities are respectively entitled to a 50% contribution to the costs related to analogue signal transmission and the purchase or rental of temporary mobile analogue transmitters during the transition period when signals will be transmitted simultaneously in both analogue and digital form.
The measure is aimed to achieve an earlier, more effective and smooth transition of broadcasting services from analogue to digital frequencies.
According to the Slovak authorities, broadcasters would not switch to digital broadcasting in advance of the legal deadline (end of 2012), due to the unwillingness of the population to acquire digital decoders. Therefore, in order to avoid a "last-minute" switchover as well as blank signal reception spots, the Slovak authorities have provided for a simulcast period of parallel transmission of maximum 12 months which shall end before December 2011. The related eligible costs can be reimbursed until 1 July 2013 when the scheme expires. The simulcast will indeed extend the period for viewers to invest in the purchase of a digital decoder (or a new digital TV set) and will then create the conditions for the broadcasters to switch to digital technology well in advance of the legal deadline.
The Commission examined the measure under Article 107(3)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, that allows aid to facilitate the development of certain economic activities. The Commission found that the scheme targeted only the additional costs that the simulcast would trigger in connection with broadcasting in both analogue and digital mode and that it did not favour one technology over another. The beneficiaries will be selected in open and non-discriminatory calls based on clear pre-defined criteria and the Slovak authorities will submit annual reports on the allocation of the funds to the Commission. The Commission therefore concluded that the measure would facilitate the digital switch-over without unduly distorting competition.
A measure regarding aid for digital decoders was approved by the Commission on 15 September 2010 (see IP/10/1128). However, the scope of this measure is very limited, as it enables only the poorest people (approximately 10% of the population) to receive an aid of up to €20 for the purchase of digital decoders.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number N671b/2009 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.