Fair Access to Exclusive Sports Rights Still a Long Shot in UK Pay TV Market
Communications Law - The Journal of Computer, Media and Telecommunications Law, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 118-122, 2009
Posted: 27 Dec 2009
Date Written: December 24, 2009
At the end of June 2009, Ofcom, the regulator for the UK’s communications sector, published its third pay TV consultation document. This interim report is part of the market investigation Ofcom started in 2007 at the request of the UK Competition Commission. It outlines proposed remedies to tackle continuing competition concerns over access to exclusive content (ie movies and sports) in the UK pay TV market. Next to the regulatory action it envisages under its sectoral powers, Ofcom considered a more targeted intervention under the competition rules necessary to prevent further aggregation of the English Football Association Premier League (‘FAPL’) content by the dominant operator British Sky Broadcasting (‘BSkyB’). Two weeks later, the French competition authority – explicitly referring to Ofcom’s proposals – concluded in a similar fashion that stronger measures were necessary to remedy foreclosure effects of exclusive content deals in the French TV market.
The calls for tougher competition control over access to exclusive sports content should hardly come as a surprise when one considers the ever-increasing prices paid for this content. Access to sports media rights remains a major bottleneck affecting European television and media markets.
Yet Ofcom’s proposals are noteworthy. They indicate the limited success of the action the European Commission undertook in 2006 to ensure greater competition for the FAPL rights and to improve the accessibility of UK consumers to FAPL content. This article addresses the issue by evaluating the European Commission’s competition law approach to the joint selling of sports media rights. With particular reference to the UK market, it is examined to what extent sport fans have actually benefited from this approach and what alternative approaches are worth considering.
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