PEOPLE SIT at a kiosk in Ashkelon as a television broadcasts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress on March 3, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last year was a good one for any Israeli television- lover, offering an unprecedented increase in the variety of options and content to the regular consumer. Whether one normally consumes content through Internet, satellite or cable-based providers, change has now come to all, either through natural market demand or legislation.
The communications market reforms chapter of the economic arrangements bill – that passed in the Knesset in December alongside the 2017 to 2018 state budget – ushered in a number of changes that will increase competition in the television market and give consumers greater freedom to choose what they watch.
One clause required Bezeq to grant other telecommunication service providers – such as Cellcom, Partner and HOT – access to its nationwide underground network of fiber optic cables, so those companies can deploy their cables through the existing network. This move was designed to prevent Bezeq’s competitors from incurring vast expenses to dig new tunnels all over the country, a process which would also cause a public nuisance.
As a result, HOT Telecommunications announced on Monday that it started using Bezeq’s nationwide infrastructure to broadcast to hundreds of areas and populations the company was previously unable to reach. This gives many Israeli consumers the option to choose between the cable-based HOT or the satellite-based Yes providers for the first time.
The reforms also opened the door for the Internet- based broadcasting of Israeli channels and content. That was good news for Cellcom, whose Internet-based Cellcom TV has since added many channels with Israeli content, including the Charlton Sports channels.
Since its launch in 2014, Cellcom TV has used especially competitive prices to position itself as a noteworthy competitor to a market dominated by HOT and Yes. In the previous year, subscriptions to Cellcom TV have more than doubled, and in October the company recorded more than 100,000 households as clients. While 3,000 subscribers left Yes and 5,000 left HOT in the last quarter of 2016, Cellcom TV signed 12,000 new subscribers.
“100,000 households chose Cellcom TV and enjoy quality and advanced TV, rich and diverse content, dozens of channels and all for the best price in Israel. The TV market revolution is at its peak and this is only the beginning,” stated Cellcom CEO Nir Sztern in October.
In November, Cellcom TV partnered with Apple, introducing the Apple TV application and device to Israeli households. Through Apple TV, consumers can also enjoy public channels, such as Channel 10, Channel 2 and the Knesset Channel.
Apple TV was not the only Silicon Valley Internet- based content provider to penetrate the Israeli market last year. Netflix also opened its services for consumers at the beginning of 2016 and was joined by Amazon Prime Video by the end of the year.
Additionally, the Israel-based 24-hour i24news network might soon be allowed to broadcast to its native country, adding another news channels aimed at the country’s Arabic, English and French speakers.
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) has been working for the last five years for the state to allow an Israeli non-Hebrew language news channel to be broadcast in Israel. The issue finally reached a breakthrough on Tuesday at the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee, when committee member from across party lines expressed their support.
“There are large sectors in Israel that are not native Hebrew speakers, and I have been trying through various means and bodies to bring about the creation of significant broadcasting in Arabic and English for them. The independent and private i24 fits the bill and I believe it should be given a permit to broadcast inside Israel,” Shai told The Jerusalem Post.
While his fellow committee members expressed their consent to start drafting legislation that would bring this about, a representative of the Justice Ministry put a roadblock in their way.
According to existing laws, a news service cannot be owned by the broadcasting platform which provides it to consumers. Since i24news is owned by Patrick Drahi – who also owns HOT – the news service is not yet eligible for a state permit.
“This idea has massive support from the government, the Communication Ministry’s Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting – which would regulate i24news – and coalition and opposition members. We are all working hard now to eliminate the barriers that prevent i24news from being available in Israel,” Shai said.
According to a representative of the Economic Affairs Committee, the members are working on a legal solution that will give i24 a unique and unprecedented legal exemption from existing restrictions and would require HOT to also allow its main competitor, Yes, the ability to broadcast the news channel to its customers.
“We are heading towards a positive conclusion, and I believe it will be a short time before we have a law that allows i24 the right to broadcast in Israel,” said Shai.