Israel's three cable TV companies are scrabbling to reduce their financial commitments ahead of their merger. This week they submitted a list of relief requests to the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council and a letter of protest to the Communications Ministry regarding the commitments set for the merged entity, to be called Gvanim, TheMarker has learned.

Among other things, the cable TV companies asked the council to stop regulating the price of their basic package of channels. Today the maximum price they may charge is NIS 156 a month. The companies claim that rate fails to factor in changes in the exchange rate and in consumer prices, and has become unrealistic.

The cable TV companies also want relief in the collateral they are to provide to the state. Each company was required to pay NIS 9 million for the shift from franchised to licensed broadcasting, but the council has demanded the three together pay another NIS 60 million ahead of the merger.

Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum claims that even that sum won't suffice to cover the companies' commitments. He says they should pay $25 million more.

Beyond all that, each of the three companies - Matav Cable Systems (Nasdaq:MATV), Golden Channels and Tevel - are required to pay $10 million for a license to provide telephony services. The cable TV companies call the demand excessive, in view of their financial difficulties.

The cable TV companies also want the council to relax its demands regarding competition. Under the terms set for their merger, if the satellite TV company YES currently their only multichannel rival collapses, they have to allow a new putative rival to broadcast over their infrastructure, and to allow their subscribers to receive their basic package of channels plus whatever services the newcomer offers.

The council has already held two debates on easing the companies' financial burdens. No decisions have been made.

Meanwhile, in their letter to the minister, the companies complained about their commitments regarding content, and the favoritism allegedly shown to YES. They claim that the demand to broadcast two new movies a day on Channel 4 is gratuitously onerous.

They also requested that the ministry abolish the requirement, stipulated in the Telecommunications Law, to broadcast regional news shows. The law originally divided the country into 27 regions, from the perspective of these shows. Later that figure was reduced to 16, and is now at 7. The companies are required to spend $9 million a year at least on these shows. While they complain that a price tag should not be affixed to each broadcast, they did not specify the production costs of regional news shows already done.

Ministry sources say the companies have a point regarding treatment of YES, which does not have to broadcast regional news shows outside its general community channel.

"The relief the cable TV companies asked for are narrow, not sweeping as presented," council chairwoman Dorit Inbar told TheMarker, but declined to provide details. She said she would reach an opinion on their requests at the council meeting.

No comment could be obtained from Ran Belnikov, the designated CEO of Gvanim.

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