The European Commission is to undertake a competition enquiry into Hollywood studios’ licensing deals with pay-TV broadcasters such as BSkyB and Vivendi’s Canal Plus. In a Press Release, the EC named Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal, Paramount Pictures and the largest European pay-TV broadcasters such as BSkyB of the UK, Canal Plus of France, Sky Italia of Italy, Sky Deutschland of Germany and DTS of Spain as subjects of the enquiry.
The enquiry, announced by Joaquin Almunia, European Commissioner for Competition, centres on contracts that prevent EU broadcasters from selling movies outside their home nation. “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 the service on digital devices,” Almunia told reporters at a Brussels press conference. “If you live in Belgium and you want to subscribe to a Spanish-speaking service, you may not be able to subscribe at all if there is absolute territorial exclusivity.”
The enquiry will examine whether provisions of licensing arrangements for broadcasting by satellite or through online streaming between US film studios and the major European broadcasters, which grant to the latter ‘absolute territorial protection’, may constitute an infringement of EU antitrust rules that prohibit anticompetitive agreements. The EU’s highest court ruled in 2011 that the English Premier League’s geographic restrictions on TV channels showing its soccer matches breached competition law, in a case triggered by a British pub landlady who bought a cheaper Greek decoder card to show games in the UK.
The Commission has informed the companies and the competition authorities of the Member States that it has opened proceedings in this case.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. The duration of an antitrust investigation depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the undertaking concerned cooperates with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.