Virgin prompts Ofcom to open Premier League live broadcast probe
| 18 November 2014
UK broadcast regulator Ofcom has opened an investigation into the joint selling arrangements by the English Premier League (EPL) of the live UK media rights for its football matches.
The investigation follows a complaint from Virgin Media, submitted to Ofcom in September 2014, alleging that the arrangements for the 'collective' selling of live UK television rights by the EPL for matches played by its member clubs is in breach of competition law. Under the EPL membership rules, which are an agreement between each of the Premier League clubs and the EPL, the governing body has authority to enter into contracts for the sale of rights to Premier League matches.
In particular, the complaint raises concerns about the number of Premier League matches for which live broadcasting rights are made available. This comes just as the EPL is gearing up for the next auction of live UK audio-visual media rights which in the UK are held by Virgin's rivals BT and Sky.
Virgin argues that the proportion of matches made available for live television broadcast under the current Premier League rights deals – at 41% – is lower than some other leading European leagues, where more matches are available for live television broadcast. It adds that this lack of live games contributes to higher prices for consumers of pay-TV packages that include premium sport channels and for the pay-TV retailers of premium sports channels.
Under section 25(2) and (3) of the UK's Competition Act, Ofcom has the power to conduct an investigation where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that there is an agreement which has as its object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the United Kingdom and/or the European Union.
Ofcom has confirmed that it will consider whether there is a breach of the UK and/or EU competition law prohibition on agreements and decisions which restrict or distort competition. Yet the regulator stressed that the case was at an early stage and it had not reached a view as to whether there was sufficient evidence of an infringement of competition law for it to issue a statement of objections.