EU regulators pounce on movie studios

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Joaquín Almunia Reuters. The European Unions antitrust chief, Joaqu�n Almunia.

Brussels - Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, Time Warner’s Warner Brothers unit and three other movie studios face an EU antitrust investigation into licensing deals with pay-TV broadcasters including British Sky Broadcasting and Vivendi’s Canal Plus.

Regulators would target contracts that prevented EU broadcasters from selling movies outside their home nation in an investigation that also involved Sony Pictures, Comcast’s NBC Universal Media and Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, the European Commission said yesterday.

“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, the EU’s antitrust chief, Joaquín Almunia, said. “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 probe into absolute territorial protection clauses would check if they violated a court ruling that said such restrictions for the sale of soccer rights to broadcasters were illegal.

The EU’s highest court ruled in 2011 that the English Premier League’s geographic restrictions on television 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 EU was not seeking to force movie studios to offer licensing deals to cover the entire 28-nation bloc or to undermine the sale of movie rights country by country, he said.

The probe would also focus on contracts with Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia and Spain’s DTS Distribuidora de Television Digital. – Aoife White and Gaspard Sebag from Bloomberg



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