BSkyB risks wrath of regulators with new Premiership rights win

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Football's Premier League yesterday risked increasing the European competition regulator's concerns about BSkyB's stranglehold on broadcast rights by awarding two fresh packages to the satellite broadcasting company.

The satellite group, which has built its fortune and more than 7 million subscribers on the back of the popularity of football, was yesterday awarded the opportunity to show every single Premier League match in full on television.

In addition, BSkyB has been granted internet rights, which are expected to be increasingly lucrative and popular as broadband technology and take-up improves. Many Premier League clubs already charge their worldwide fans a monthly subscription to watch highlights and goal flashes from their favourite club's games.

In a late announcement yesterday, the Premier League said the only fresh rights it has awarded to a company other than BSkyB are delayed rights for mobile phone users, for which BSkyB is also believed to have bid. These were awarded jointly to 3, the mobile group that currently owns these rights, and to its rival Vodafone.

3, controlled by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, is said to have paid something like £36m for the three-year rights package last time - a deal that expires after the season ends next May. It has been particularly keen to keep the football rights as video clips are key to its next generation, or 3G, mobile phone service, launched in March.

It was unclear last night whether 3 and Vodafone would resell the highlights to their rivals including Orange, T-Mobile and mmO2 to enable them to offer similar services.

BSkyB and the mobile phone operators have paid around £100m between them for the "as live" broadcast, internet and mobile FA Premier League rights although the League refused to comment on how much each business had paid.

However, it is the award of the internet and additional broadcast rights to BSkyB that could antagonise the European competition authorities, who yesterday said they would examine the latest deals as part of an overall investigation into the controversial Premier League deal.

Last week, even before this latest development, Europe's competition commissioner, Mario Monti, was reported as saying: "The announcements made so far by the Premier League suggest that BSkyB will have an even greater monopoly over live television rights than was the case in the past. This is bad for competition on broadcasting rights, and bad for consumers."

Apart from BSkyB, the only media groups that have been awarded any rights at all by the Premier League are the mobile operators and the BBC, which grabbed the highlights package from rival ITV. BSkyB paid £1bn for the live packages it won on an exclusive basis earlier this year and yesterday's deals will give the League, whose clubs are principally loss-making, a much-needed additional £100m.

It is understood the new deal will enable BSkyB to show one "as live" match in full from 8.30pm on Saturdays - and all other matches could theoretically be shown from 10pm. BSkyB will argue to the Commission that this new deal will benefit fans, who will be able to view more matches.