What does competition law have to do with sports broadcasting?

Competition law and broadcasting issues have continued to offer interesting insights into the dynamics of the UK broadcasting market. This has manifested in various disputes between the UK’s most well-known television and satellite providers.

BSkyB (Sky) seem to be at the very heart of the debate, especially in the realms of sports and movies. Various challengers including BT, Virgin and Top Up TV have questioned the satellite broadcaster’s behaviour in a number of broadcasting markets. Of significant interest some time ago was the pub decoder case, where publican Karen Murphy was prosecuted after purchasing a Greek decoder and decoder card in order to broadcast live Premier League (PL) matches in her pub. The not so well known outcome, after EU court intervention, was that the English court concluded that the PL owned copyrighted works such as the anthem and the logo which were embedded in the broadcast. As such Murphy needed authorisation to broadcast the copyrighted material which was something the PL were unlikely to provide.

Similarly, Sky was successful in overturning an Ofcom decision requiring Sky to sell its Sky Sports 1 and 2 channels to its competitors at a regulated price. Its main concerns were that Sky (as a wholesaler and retailer of PL football through its Sky Sports channels) could have had an interest in limiting the distribution of premium content, and that it could set its prices at a level as to make selling its Sky Sports channels uneconomical for its competitors like Virgin and BT.

As of this week, BT Sport who is the new entrant in the sports broadcasting market has made a complaint to Ofcom who has launched an investigation into whether Sky is abusing its dominant position by withholding Sky Sports channels from BT’s rival You View internet-connected TV service. This comes in the same week that Ofcom rejected a complaint by BT in relation to Sky refusing to carry advertising of BT Sport on its own Sky Sports channels.

At a time when purchasing live sport can cost several billion pounds, complainants and claimants alike will continue to use competition law to advance their cases in an effort to access to premium content.

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