The European Commission has opened formal antitrust proceedings to examine certain provisions in licensing agreements between several major U.S. film studios and Europe’s biggest pay-TV groups. The EC said today that it’s looking into whether certain deal clauses covering satellite and online streaming transmissions prevent broadcasters from providing their services across Eurpean Union borders. The studios mentioned in an EC press release today include 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Sony, NBCUniversal and Paramount. The broadcasters in question include BSkyB, Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland (Fox has controlling stakes in each), France’s Canal Plus and Spain’s DTS.
In essence, the Commission is looking at whether the practice of selling film rights for one country at a time infringes on EU antitrust rules that prohibit anticompetitive agreements. The Commission says that deals between the studios and the broadcasters grant the latter “absolute territorial protection” and mean that films cannot be made available outside that member state, even in response to requests from potential subscribers in another EU country. According to the Associated Press, EC antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia told reporters today in Brussles that the question is whether a subscriber to, say, a German pay-TV channel should be able to stream content online while in another EU country. “Or if you live in Belgium and you want to subscribe to a Spanish pay TV service, (you) may not be able to subscribe at all if there’s absolute territorial exclusivity,” the AP quoted him as saying.
The Commission was careful to note that the opening of proceedings “in no way prejudges the outcome of the investigation; it only means that the Commission will treat the case as a matter of priority.” The probe does not involve all forms of territorial limits; nor is it designed to move to a system of pan-European contracts. There is no time frame for the inquiry. A Warner Bros spokesperson told Deadline, “We intend to co-operate fully with the European Commission’s investigation. It is premature to comment further at this time.”