Discovery mulls lawsuit over Norway's betting ads ban for foreign broadcasters
Discovery, the US media giant that owns pan-European sports broadcaster Eurosport, is planning legal action in Norway over the government's proposed ban on offshore gambling advertising through both linear broadcasters and streaming services.
Earlier this year, the Norwegian government said it would review legislation aimed at stopping unlicensed foreign gambling sites advertising on TV channels as well as streaming services operating in Norway, which is scheduled to come into force in 2021.
Discovery is now planning to launch legal action if that law is passed, according to local media reports.
The Norwegian government currently only allows Norsk Tipping, the state-run lottery, to advertise via television channels and online platforms, but some foreign gambling companies have been getting around that rule by sending adverts through overseas broadcasters and sites.
Up until this point, TV channels being broadcast into Norway have operated outside the government's jurisdiction.
Any new regulations would be intended to remove that loophole, but Discovery, which broadcasts in Norway through a UK television license, has said previously that a regulation along those lines could have consequences for the distribution of its TV channels throughout the Nordic country.
Discovery has now said it believes any rules changes to that effect would go against the European Union’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which coordinates legislation across the EU bloc.
As well as its country-specific Eurosport channels, Discovery has various carriage agreements in place with sports broadcasters across the Nordic region, and its subscription streaming service Dplay is also active in Norway.
Discovery holds rights to premium sports properties in the region, including top-tier domestic soccer leagues in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. It also gained the rights to the Olympic Games in Europe through a €1.3-billion ($1.44-billion) deal with the International Olympic Committee running from 2018 to 2024.
Earlier this year, it signed carriage deals with Telenor and Telia, two Nordic telecoms firms.
A report last year cited Discovery Networks Norway and Nordic Entertainment Group as two of the main broadcast distributors which would lose out if the Norwegian government prevented gambling ads being viewed in the country, with those two companies securing in the region of $56 million from foreign gambling companies each year, for advertising slots.
If offshore gambling advertising was blocked, Discovery and NENT would have to lower the cost of their advertising slots, which would in turn mean budgets to create new programmes and content would be lowered.
Espen Skoland, operational head of Discovery in Norway, said: “In our opinion, the proposed change in law is in contravention of the AVMS Directive (a European Union media directive).”
Christine Hamnen, Norway’s minister for culture and media, said, however: “The ministry has taken note of Discovery’s impending lawsuit, and notes that the provision with (European Union) law was assessed in the preparatory work, which concluded that the state has discretion to introduce national rules in this area.”