Euro probe into pay TV services launched

January 13, 2014 17.18 Europe/London By Robert Briel

Ruffled European flagThe European Commission has opened an antitrust investigation concerning the cross-border provision of pay TV services.

The launch of the investigation was announced by Joaquín Almunia, VP of the European Commission responsible for competition policy.

The proceedings involve BSkyB in the UK, Sky Italia in Italy, Canal+ in France, Sky Deutschland in Germany and DTS (operating under the Canal Plus brand) in Spain.

The film studios involved are US studios Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros, Sony, NBCUniversal and Paramount.

“I want to be clear on one point: we are not calling into question the possibility to grant licenses on a territorial basis, or trying to oblige studios to sell rights on a pan-European basis,” said Almunia in a statement.

“Rather, our investigation will focus on restrictions that prevent the selling of the content in response to unsolicited requests from viewers located in other Member States – the so-called “passive sales” – or to existing subscribers who move or travel abroad.

“To illustrate: if you subscribe to a Pay TV service in Germany and you go to Italy for holidays, you may not be able to view the films offered by that service from your laptop during your holidays. Similarly, if I live in Belgium and want to subscribe to a Spanish Pay TV service, I may not be able to subscribe at all if there is absolute territorial exclusivity.

“Such provisions might constitute an infringement of EU antitrust rules, which prohibit anticompetitive agreements. Indeed, the Court of Justice, in a judgment concerning the satellite broadcasting of football matches, has ruled that absolute territorial exclusivity given to a broadcaster may be anticompetitive if it eliminates all competition between broadcasters and leads to a partitioning of the Single Market along national borders.

“So in the context of the investigation we are launching today, we will carefully examine if the principles set out by the Court of Justice should also be applied to other types of audiovisual content such as the popular films licensed by the US studios. Of course, the opening of the investigation does not prejudge its outcome.”