The European Court has announced the postponement of its ruling on the viewing of Premier League football in pubs to early 2010. The verdict of the Court could have big implications on the way European broadcasters acquire movie and sports rights in the future. The European Court in Luxembourg will rule on the case at the request of the London High Court in an action brought by the Premier League against a company called QC Leisure, which sells subscriptions of foreign pay-TV platforms to people in the UK. In this particular instance, QC Leisure sold a subscription to the Greek Nova TV platform to Karen Murphy, the owner of a pub in Portsmouth. She had bought a subscription to Nova in order to be able to show Premier League games to visitors of her pub, for which she paid around €890 a year.
Instead, according to the Premier League, she should have bought a special pub subscription from BSkyB at the cost of £6,000. Broadband TV News notes that the price of commercial subscription from Nova TV would presumably be closer to the Sky price than the domestic subscription, with mark-up, which was purchased.
As a result, The Premier League started proceeding against QC Leisure, who sold the subscription to Ms Murphy. At the time, Dan Johnson, chief spokesperson for the FAPL, said: “The Premier League has said from day one that it’s committed to prosecuting suppliers of illegal satellite equipment and this action shows we are true to our word. It also sends a message that we are seeking to protect publicans from mis-information and mis-selling that enables the likes of QC Leisure (QCL) to make significant amounts of money, ultimately at the expense of pubs and clubs.”
In order to back up the claim, the FAPL produced letters from four international pay TV platforms, ART, SuperSport (Nova), Canal+ and DigitAlb, stating they have no right to show Premiership football in the UK. The verdict could have big implications for the way broadcasting rights are sold in Europe. European Commissioner Viviane Reding is in favour of making it possible for broadcasters to buy pan-European rights rather than per country per territory, as is now the case. Under the free exchange of goods and services, right holders would no longer be allowed to sell their rights per country or territory.
This would mean people in each European country would – in theory – have access to pay TV platforms from other European countries. Of course, this is already practice with a huge grey market in smart cards, but strictly speaking it is illegal. The big fear is that allowing cross-border subscriptions, the price of live events and major Hollywood blockbusters would come down because the would no longer be exclusive to each broadcaster. However, there is no evidence that this indeed would happen, as cross border reception would be very much a minority issue, because of language issues.
It is our take that it would help to fight piracy by allowing existing market practices. The public showing of live sports events (and of movies as well) is a different case. The fact that a pub subscribes to a foreign satellite platform does not include the right to show the match in public; it only give technical access to the signal. BSkyB sells alongside its regular subscription also special pub subscriptions, which include the right for public viewing.
In other countries, such as The Netherlands, there are special collecting agencies who sell such public viewing licences on behalf of the rights holders. So, if a pub owner in Holland would buy a subscription from the platform they would also have to buy a public screening licence from the agency on top of that.