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Business Comment

David Prosser: It's a home victory for Sky after all


Outlook For a woman who lost her case, the Portsmouth pub landlady Karen Murphy was looking remarkably cheerful yesterday. And no, that is not a Daily Mail-style jumping of the gun on the European court's verdict: Ms Murphy – and byimplication, publicans up and down the country – really did suffer a reverse. Why do you think BSkyB shares, down by less than 3 per cent last night, were among the best performers on a dreadful day for the Footsie?

The effect of the European Court of Justice's ruling appears to be diametrically opposite to what Ms Murphy had been hoping for. Though it said a game of football itself could not be copyrighted, it added that everything from the Premier League's logo to the rights holder's highlights package could. Ms Murphy and her colleagues can thus be stopped from broadcasting games without authorisation simply by the inclusion of an on-screen logo (it could even be painted on the pitch if needs be).

For individuals – as opposed to commercial premises – the ECJ ruling at first sight looks to be better news. The court effectively said they were perfectly within their rights to shop around European satellite TV broadcasters for a cheaper deal on football than the one Sky offers in this country.

However, before you get excited about the idea of watching, say, a Greek broadcast of Premier League football (you can always mute the TV and switch on the radio commentary), check the savings on offer. In fact, on deals for households, Sky does not appear to be much more expensive than other operators in Europe – even leaving aside the issue that football may well not be the only content for which you want its service.

This is not to say yesterday'sruling has no implications at all for Sky or the Premier League – or, for that matter, many other parties. It may now not be possible to sell the rights to sporting events on a country-by-country basis within the European Union. And if rights must be sold on a pan-EU basis, they would presumably then have to be sub-licensed to broadcasters in different countries – at a cost reflecting both local market conditions but also the importance of not making it easy for someone to undercut the rights holder. It is not at all clear what that might mean for prices and revenues.

Nor does this only apply to sport. The ECJ appears to have opened the door to EU citizens shopping around for the cheapest deals on all TV and movie content, which might have serious consequences for companies such as production houses, for example.

Still, for those who need to drown their sorrows, there is a pub in Portsmouth in need of a boost.