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Virgin Media lodges complaint over Premier League rights auction

Tue 30th Sep 2014 | Television & Broadcasting

Virgin Media has complained to Ofcom over the way that rights to Premier League matches are sold, saying that consumers are being forced to pay too high a price to watch games.

Virgin Media, owned by Liberty Global, says it does not plan to bid in the next rights auction but it is affected by the prices paid through its role as a wholesaler of sports channels from BSkyB and BT.

The price of broadcasting top-flight matches has steadily risen since BSkyB, part owned by Rupert Murdoch, started showing games in the early 1990s.

The most recent rights package - a three-year deal running until 2016 - was sold for £3 billion, up 70 percent on the previous deal, and Virgin says the high prices are being passed on to customers, deterring many from signing up to the more expensive sports packages.

BSkyb and BT are likely to bid again when the next auction round starts - expected towards the end of this year - and Virgin predicts that prices could rise by a further 60 percent.

"The rapidly rising cost of Premier League live broadcast rights means UK fans pay the highest prices in Europe to watch football on TV," said Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. "Virgin Media has asked Ofcom to investigate how the rights are sold ahead of the next auction."

Virgin Media filed its complaint to regulator Ofcom two weeks ago and is expecting a response towards the end of October or early November. It has filed the complaint on the basis that the current rules are stifling competition.

Among the differences between the broadcasting of the top tier of English football and counterparts elsewhere in Europe is that about 40 percent of Premier League matches are broadcast live, compared with 100 percent in markets such as Italy, Spain and Germany.

With fewer matches shown live, there is generally only one match shown at any one time. Part of the reason for that is the Premier League's commitment to schedule as many weekend fixtures as possible to kick-off at 3pm local time on a Saturday, with the rights deal barring live broadcasts of those matches to protect attendance figures.

Ofcom said it is considering whether further action is required.

Source: Reuters

Image: Action Images

Posted by: Kev Howland 

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