Premier League TV rights probed by regulator
18 November 2014, 22:57
London - Regulator Ofcom on Tuesday launched a competition probe into how English football's Premier League sells rights to broadcast live matches featuring teams including Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.
It follows a complaint from Virgin Media submitted to Ofcom in September, the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom said in a statement.
"Virgin Media argues that the proportion of matches made available for live television broadcast (in the United Kingdom) under the current Premier League rights deals, at 41 percent, is lower than some other leading European leagues, where more matches are available for live television broadcast," Ofcom said.
"The complaint alleges that this 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," Ofcom added.
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The regulator said it will now consider whether there has been a breach of UK and/or European Union (EU) competition law.
Rights to screen live Premier League fixtures in the UK are shared currently between pay TV broadcasters BSkyB and BT, with the bulk shown by BSkyB. Virgin Media meanwhile has an agreement to show these matches on its own cable TV platform by paying a fee to BSkyB and BT.
Customers then pay a monthly subscription to view the games on either BSkyB, BT and/or Virgin Media.
Separate deals exist for broadcast rights of the globally popular Premier League in other countries.
The previous auction in 2012 saw BSkyB and BT pay a combined 3 billion to show matches over three seasons with the cost soaring as telecoms group BT entered the TV market for the first time.
The next auction is due early in 2015 and analysts are predicting another surge in the contract that will boost the coffers of England's elite clubs and likely see another massive hike in wages earned by the top players.
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, who this week made his 100th appearance for England, is paid a reported 300,000 ($469,000, 375,000 euros) a week by his club.
"Ofcom's announcement today is welcome news," said Virgin Media's chief executive Tom Mockridge.
"The fact remains that fans in the UK pay the highest prices in Europe to watch the least amount of football on TV. Now is the right time to look again at the way live rights are sold to make football even more accessible."
The Premier League insisted that it "sells its audio-visual rights in a way that is compatible with UK and EU competition law and will continue to do so".