Coronavirus pandemic stopped sports events: Finnish Consumer Ombudsman has reminded channel package providers of the principles of consumer protection

The coronavirus pandemic has stopped sports events, which has led to changes in the pay-tv sports channel packages offered to consumers. The Consumer Ombudsman started investigating the practices of service providers as soon as the first sports events had been cancelled and reminded service providers of the principles of consumer protection. If there are major changes to the service content, the subscriber has the right to cancel the service contract even if it had been concluded for a fixed term.

Consumers that had subscribed to sports channel packages have not been able to watch sports events this spring because the coronavirus pandemic has forced the organisers to suspend, postpone or cancel the events. The Finnish Consumer Ombudsman started investigating the channel package practices of the largest service providers in March as the first sports events were cancelled. According to the Consumer Ombudsman’s findings, most of the channel package providers reduced the prices of their packages on their own account. Furthermore, many of them added entertainment content to subscriptions that did not already include such content.

After investigating the matter, the Consumer Ombudsman sent a letter to the companies offering pay-tv sports channel packages in which she asked the service providers to detail the measures that they had already taken. In her letter, the Consumer Ombudsman also reminded the companies that the principles of consumer protection also apply in exceptional situations.

“If live sports events are the main content of the channel package, replacing the programmes with other content will substantially change the service. In that case, the consumer has the right to cancel the contract even if it had been concluded for a fixed term,” Katri Väänänen, Finnish Consumer Ombudsman, explains.

Judging from the replies to the letter, most of the service providers have acted in three different ways: in addition to cutting prices and changing package contents, they have also allowed consumers to cancel fixed-term contracts.

Cancelling the contracts has not been without problems

The reports received by the Consumer Ombudsman and the Consumer Advisory Service suggest that during the early stage of the pandemic, some consumers faced problems when trying to cancel their contracts. There were problems with the right to cancel fixed-term contracts and the long notice periods of contracts that were valid until further notice.

The Consumer Ombudsman emphasises that consumers must be given the chance to choose between the cancellation of the contract and other compensation. The consumers do not need to accept the changes made by the service provider, such as price reductions or alternative content if the service content has changed substantially. For example, offering a price reduction or alternative entertainment content is an adequate compensation only if accepted by the consumer.

The role of customer communications is highlighted in exceptional situations

According to the Finnish Consumer Ombudsman, it is important that service providers actively communicate with their customers when service providers are making unilateral changes to the content of their services.

“Consumers must also be informed of their rights in exceptional situations. Customer communications are particularly important in a situation where the changes have resulted from an emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic,” Väänänen adds.