Virgin Media has called on the media regulator Ofcom to open a formal investigation under the Competition Act 1998 into the arrangements under which the Premier League sells live UK television rights to its games.
The cablenet says it considers “significant consumer harm resulting from escalating rights costs can be addressed by targeted changes to the way in which live rights are sold, while preserving the benefits of joint selling. A review is required with the next auction imminent and a further 60% inflation in costs predicted”.
Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, said: “The rapidly rising cost of Premier League live broadcast rights means UK fans pay the highest prices in Europe to watch football on TV. Virgin Media has asked Ofcom to investigate how the rights are sold ahead of the next auction.”
UK rights to the Premier League are currently held jointly by BSkyB and BT, who hold five and two packages respectively. UK cable is not believed to have bid directly for the rights since the formation of Virgin Media in 2006. Virgin however pays handsomely for the right to carry Sky Sports and BT Sport with the resultant knock on effects both to the consumer and its own profit margin.
The requirement by the European Commission, introduced in 2006, that no single bidder should be able to obtain all the Premier League packages has now expired.
The current three-year deal that began at the start of the 2013-14 season increased the value of live TV rights by 70% to £3 billion.
A recent survey by Comparaiso.es showed UK fans paid the second highest amount in Europe with a monthly €49.86 required to watch top flight football, compared to €51.21 in Spain and €39.90 in Germany. Other sources place the UK at the top of the league.
Virgin’s request to the regulator opens up a new front in pay-TV sports rights. In March 2007 a joint complaint from BT, Setanta, Top Up TV and Virgin Media eventually resulted in the wholesaling of the two prime Sky Sports channels at a fee approved by the regulator.