Virgin Media has written to Ofcom, asking the regulator to pause the current auction for rights to Premier League football.
The cablenet has filed an ‘application for interim measures’ that would halt the auction for live TV rights until Ofcom completes its current investigation into the process, which Virgin says is in breach of UK and EU competition law.
Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s chief corporate affairs officer, said: “The Premier League has pushed ahead with its early sale of TV rights despite Ofcom’s investigation. With 18 months until those deals begin, there is plenty of time for Ofcom to pause the auction process while it completes its inquiries. Failure to do so will leave fans, who already pay the most to see the least amount of football in Europe, facing yet another big rise in the cost of watching live football on TV.”
Virgin is putting itself on the side of the viewer, though the Premier League described the move as “self-serving”.
The bidding process in likely to complete in February, ahead of Ofcom’s inquiry, and a whole 18 months before the 2016/17 season from when the rights will run.
Nomura estimates the cost of the rights, already at £3 billion over three years for the current contract, can be expected to add another 60% in value.
The key battle is likely to be between Sky Sports, which has held rights to the UK’s premium sports competition since its inception two decades ago, and new entrant BT Sport. Virgin Media is not thought to be entering the bidding process leaving the cablenet obliged to negotiate carriage with the two platforms.
It’s a change of stance for Virgin, which before its acquisition by Liberty Global had downplayed the importance of the premium sports channels, given the low margins it received.
Virgin says if the auction continues unchecked, Ofcom’s ability to act will be prejudiced and it will likely be 2019 until the next opportunity to reign in the rampant inflation in prices for viewers.
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