UK comms regulator Ofcom has rejected an application from UK quad-play operator Virgin Media to suspend the imminent auction of live English Premier League rights, suggesting that it does not consider that there is an urgent need to intervene to delay the process.
In November 2014, following a complaint by Virgin Media, Ofcom opened an investigation under section 25 of the Competition Act 1998 into the joint selling arrangements by the Premier League for live, UK audio-visual media rights for Premier League football matches.
On 28 January 2015, Virgin Media made an application requesting that Ofcom issue an ‘interim measures direction’, pursuant to section 35 of the Competition Act, to require the Premier League to suspend the forthcoming auction of audiovisual rights to broadcast live Premier League matches, until Ofcom had reached the next stage of its process in March 2015. Ofcom received submissions from the Premier League on Virgin Media’s request.
Having considered the application, and submissions from Virgin Media and the Premier League, Ofcom has decided to reject the application, as it does not consider that there is an urgent need to intervene to delay the auction.
It notes there will be a “significant” gap, of around 17 months, between the auction and the start of the 2016/2017 season when broadcasting of the relevant matches will commence. In the event that Ofcom’s investigation concludes that there is an infringement, Ofcom has the necessary powers to require the Premier League and Premier League clubs to make changes to arrangements for the broadcasting of matches within the time available before the start of the relevant season.
In its submissions to Ofcom, the Premier League has similarly stated its view that there is no basis for Virgin Media’s assertion that Ofcom would be constrained in its ability to intervene post auction. It has also confirmed to Ofcom that it will put in place arrangements in contracts with purchasers to address the consequences of a potential infringement decision.
The investigation is ongoing and will consider the potential harm to competition and consumers arising from joint selling under the auction. Ofcom is carrying out the investigation expeditiously, in light of the auctioned matches being broadcast from August 2016. Ofcom still expects to publish a further document in March 2015.