EU court annuls UPC-Ziggo merger

The European General Court has annulled the planned merger of the UPC and Ziggo cable TV networks in the Netherlands, finding that the European Commission failed adequately to look into the impact of the merger on pay-TV sports channels.

In 2014, the European Commission approved international cable operator Liberty Global’s acquisition of Dutch cable TV network Ziggo on condition that Liberty divest itself of its premium pay-TV channel and terminate any agreement it had with other broadcasters that restricted their ability to offer their channels in the Netherlands.

However, the conditions didn’t cover paid sports channels, leading Dutch telco KPN to challenge the Commission’s approval of the merger, contending that the Commission had failed to analyse possible competition effects on the premium sports channel market, as well as failing to give reasons for why it chose not to look at that market.

In its ruling, the Court acknowledged the Commission isn’t automatically obligated to explain its decisions. However, when the regulator brings up the possibility of the premium sports channel market being affected by the merger in its decision – and notes any impacts wouldn’t change its decision – it must give reasons for that finding, the Court said.

The ruling cancels the commission’s approval of the Liberty-Ziggo merger. The Commission can either appeal to the European Court of Justice or opt to re-examine its decision to satisfy the general court’s findings.

The decision means the merger will now have to be cleared again, despite the fact the merged UPC-Ziggo entity has since been combined with Vodafone Group’s operations in the Netherlands. The ruling was not related to the later merger.

Liberty Global, which owns the Vodafone/Ziggo entity in a joint venture with Vodafone, said the decision would have no impact on the day-to-day operations of the cable telco and that it would discuss practical steps with the Commission over the coming weeks.

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