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Subscription television: An overview of the Colombian case

The alternative solutions in Colombia have surpassed the national signal, generating a significant increase in the international television offer and have surpassed open television to include subscription television.

This time we will comment on the issue of subscription television in Colombia, and in particular, what is being done about it in terms of regulation because, according to important publications -based on statistical studies-, piracy and lack of respect for copyright has notoriously affected the development of this type of television n.

To cite an example, the magazine "Latin American Television" estimates that just a few years ago, our country had about 4 million homes illegally connected to the system. Paradoxically, it is expected that in Latin America the legal base of cable subscribers, MMDS, UHF and SMATV will increase from seventeen million to thirty million in 2005, with Colombia being one of the countries that show the highest growth, along with Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

It is evident that the dynamics of cultural globalization, the accelerated technological development and the current economic model that seeks greater participation of private capital in television, have led governments to regulate the issue in order to respond adequately to these challenges imposed by new technology and changes in models of ownership of the medium.

In our country, the State has been modifying its scheme of ownership, organization, direction, selection and control, changing the mixed system of television management existing since 1965, in which it retained ownership of the medium and delivered to individuals the programming and exploitation of spaces. Today, it went from two national channels and one educational and cultural, to a television that, in addition to these, has two new private channels, at least five regional channels, local channels, community channels, subscription television and several satellite television systems.

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In this way, television alternatives in Colombia have surpassed the national signal generating a significant increase in the international television offer and have surpassed open television to include subscription television.

Making a brief account of the latest changes experienced by the Colombian television system, we remember that it was in the mid-80s when the governing body of INRAVISION (National Institute of Radio and Television), was replaced by the National Television Council in which members of the community participated, in addition to government delegates.

In 1995, the National Television Commission (CNTV) was formed, a public law body with administrative, patrimonial and technical autonomy, created with the purpose of "exercising, on behalf of the State, the ownership and reservation of the public television service, direct television policy, develop and execute the plans and programs of the State in relation to the public television service in accordance with what is determined by law (...) ", as expressed in Law 182 of 1995.

According to what was stated by the CNTV itself, among its main activities was the issuance of the National Plan for the Management of the Electromagnetic Spectrum for Television and the Plans for the Use of the Frequencies of the different services. In addition, it regulated the distribution of incidental signals by organized communities, the creation of regional channels, the entry into the country of direct-to-home television, the operation of public and private operators at the national coverage level and the provision of subscription television service.


Following what is determined by Law 182, last semester the CNTV opened a public bidding process for the granting of concession contracts for the operation and exploitation of the public subscription television service. According to Juan Carlos Gómez, Head of the CNTV Subscription Television Office, the current tender seeks, among other things, to legalize the provision of the service by offering informal operators this opportunity and open access possibilities to potential concessionaires.

As explained by Mr. Gómez, the recent bidding process covered three major areas:

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1. Subscription television at the zonal and municipal levels

Established according to the previously determined levels:

Tender 01 of 1999 for municipalities of less than one hundred thousand inhabitants, was opened on July 14 and its closing date was August 12. However, it was extended until the 25th of the same month.

Tender 02 covers municipalities with one hundred thousand or more inhabitants. Its opening date was the same as that of tender 01 and the closing was initially scheduled for August 13, a date that was extended until the 26th.

Tender 03, whose opening date was the same July 14 with closing on August 14, was extended until the 27th of that month.

The results of the award will be given in mid to late November.

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2. Cable TV

The first cable television operators — we mean 10 concessionaires — agreed to their first concession contract in 1986 and 1987. Since the law states that their duration is 10 years, these contracts have already had the opportunity to be renewed. However, in accordance with the new television law and Law 336, an attempt has been made to open a new bidding process. In fact, last year the tender 01 was opened, subsequently declared deserted. This year it opened again, receiving more than 100 proposals that are currently being studied. The awards will also be known in the month of November.

3. Communities organized to distribute incidental (parabolic) signals

Agreement 06 of 1996 determined the requirements, regulated who could distribute incidental signal service, what their commitments and obligations were, and what sanctions they would be subject to in cases of non-compliance. For example, organized communities or non-profit entities that receive this signal require an authorization. There are currently 1,480 registered communities, of which 612 are authorized and 824 completed, that is, in the process of receiving authorization.

Agreement 029 and 036 regulated matters relating to non-profit community television. With the current bidding process, communities that receive free incidental signals have a real chance to legalize their situation.

There is a Draft Agreement that has already been reviewed by the community; its comments and observations are under study by the Board of Directors of the CNTV to define its viability as an Agreement. In addition to access to international television, one of the objectives pursued by this Draft Agreement is to encourage communities to have their own production.

Value of the concession and payment of compensation

Agreement 014 specifies that the concessionaire must pay the CNTV a value as consideration for the right to operate the subscription television service, a sum that will be canceled only once. In addition, as compensation for the operation of this service, it will pay 10% of the total gross monthly income from the provision of the service.

The rule referring to this percentage has been very controversial and we have seen articles and requests from the Association of Subscription Television Concessionaires, so that this matter is reconsidered by the CNTV. The main argument presented is in the fact that the global trend is not to impose excise taxes on this type of television different from the existing taxes for other industries.


With regard to programming , the subscription television concessionaire is solely responsible for the quality of the signal and the content of the programming, and must guarantee its subscribers the reception of Colombian free-to-air television channels that are tuned into the authorized coverage area.

Adult programming must respond to previously established slots. In this way, programs with large doses of violence must be broadcast between 22:00 and 05:00 hours; those related as adult programming can be broadcast between 00:00 and 05:00 hours, except for those programs transmitted through PPV or VOD systems.

In order to promote the domestic production industry, the concessionaire must transmit, between 6:00 p.m. and 24:00 p.m., at least one hour of own production. On the other hand, they must reserve an exclusive channel for the transmissions originated in the Channel of the Congress of the Republic, broadcasts that are currently being made through Señal Colombia.

The commercial pattern is handled in the same way as the pattern of open television channels, in accordance with the conditions and requirements indicated by the CNTV.


As we can see, there are many aspects related to subscription television that must be taken into account: on the one hand, there are the regulations and provisions established by the CNTV whose general frameworks seek to comply with the commitments that television has as a public service, the legal provision of the service, the permanent updating in terms of technology and the development of an economic activity within a market of free competition.

On the other hand, operators and borrowers who seek to consolidate a specific economic activity carried out within the telecommunications sector and whose actions must be framed within the general interest, their self-regulation and user satisfaction.

And, of course, the third intervention must be given by the receiving public, which is often passive without bearing in mind that it not only has the right but the commitment to demand a television that, in addition to complying with technical standards, responds to a concrete reality demanded by the current circumstances of our society.

Whatever actors are involved, there is one obvious issue: subscription television programming, as a public service, must promote respect for fundamental rights and duties and contribute to the consolidation of democracy, the dissemination of human values and cultural expressions.

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