BSkyB and Premier League outgunned in EU pub battle

Pubs showing Premier League matches via foreign broadcasters may not be breaking EU law. Which could leave BSkyB and the Premier League in for a financial kicking...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 03 Mar 2011
European Union advocate general Juliane Kokott has told the European Court of Justice that Portsmouth pub landlady Karen Murphy was justified in arguing she should be allowed to show live Premier League matches using a Greek decoder card - rather than using the UK’s authorised provider BSkyB, which would cost around ten times as much.

Kokett’s is only one legal opinion, but the bad news for the Premier League and BSkyB is that she has the ear of MEPs and her views are generally endorsed by the ECJ. The good news for punters is that this could see monthly charges for live sport slashed: users here currently have to go via Sky, or risk prosecution from the Premier League if they use foreign decoders to pick up the games on the cheap.

But it seems that the EU may have a problem with the Premier League model, which is designed to squeeze as much cash from its fat cow as possible by selling exclusive TV rights packages to broadcasters across the continent on a country-by-country basis. Kokett’s take is that rights holders don’t have the right to charge different prices in different parts of the union.

All of which spells bad news for the footie world. The Premier League currently earns £1.8bn for its three-year UK rights. TV also generates around half clubs’ income, and helps inflate players’ wages. So this ruling could leave them sick as a parrot right across the pitch. Although how disastrous would it really be if clubs were forced to start paying players merely sensible wages?

Then there’s the effect on BSkyB, which currently makes £200m a year just from pub licences. Although potential owner News Corp may not be too worried: it owns 39% of BSkyB and saw a 150% increase in profits for Q4 last year, up to $642m. Back of the net.

Still, the broadcaster may not look too kindly on its lowly opponent here. The case was taken to the ECJ by Murphy, landlady of the Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth, who got stung for breach of UK copyright law back in 2007 for showing the footie via Greek broadcaster Nova. And it’s looking like a potential FA Cup upset-style victory for the minnows.

But it could have wider implications too. There’s talk it could spark a race to the bottom on price, not only in relation to broadcasting, but also for digital music, books and film as broadcasters and other providers compete with each other on a pan-European basis.

The Premier League for one may now have to draw up a plan B for how to sell its broadcasting rights as one package right across Europe. And it’ll have to second-guess how much BSkyB and ESPN – the only ones likely to bid for a pan-European deal - would pay. As for the punters, it’s just a case of filling their garden with a satellite dish the size of a Premiership player’s pay-packet to get that cheap foreign signal…  

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