Premium pay TV movies - Decision

03 August 2010


1.1 This document sets out our decision to refer to the Competition Commission ('CC') for market investigation under the Enterprise Act 2002 ('EA02') the following closely related markets:

  • the rights to show movies from the Major Hollywood Studios in the first pay TV subscription window in the UK; and
  • the wholesale supply of pay TV packages including Core Premium Movies channels.

1.2 We published a consultation on our proposed decision to make a market investigation reference on 31 March 2010 ('the Consultation') and received 14 responses.

1.3 We consider that the markets we have identified are distinct economic markets and that within these markets a combination of features has an adverse effect on competition. This in turn negatively affects the consumer experience, particularly in terms of reduced choice and innovation and higher prices. The features we have identified are:

  • a limited pool of premium content from the Major Hollywood Studios;
  • the way in which the rights to broadcast movies are made available over time (i.e. the release windows structure);
  • the joint licensing of premium linear channel and subscription video on demand ('SVoD') rights by individual studios;
  • exclusivity of rights licensing agreements between individual studios and purchasers of rights;
  • other restrictions in contracts for the rights in the first pay TV subscription window, such as [ redacted ];
  • aggregation of substitutable premium movie content into a single wholesale offering;
  • staggered availability of content rights and duration of contracts for premium movie rights ;
  • Sky's market power in the distribution of Core Premium Movies channels, which in turn gives Sky a high degree of negotiating power with the Major Hollywood Studios in the upstream market; and
  • vertical integration of firms over the pay TV supply chain. In particular, vertical integration in conjunction with its market power gives Sky an incentive to limit the exploitation of its SVoD rights, and restrict distribution of its wholesale channels.

1.4 We believe that we have reasonable grounds to suspect that the combination of these features prevents, restricts or distorts competition in these closely linked markets. In particular, the combination of the features identified creates a situation in which one player is enabled and incentivised to prevent, restrict and distort competition. We see these issues being manifested in three ways:

  • limited exploitation of premium SVoD rights;
  • restricted distribution of Sky's Core Premium Movies channels; and
  • high prices for Sky's Core Premium Movies channels.

1.5 Pay TV is now the single largest source of revenue in the UK's TV industry. First-run Hollywood movies on a subscription basis are particularly important to competition in the pay TV sector because they are highly attractive to a large number of consumers, and shown only on pay TV.

1.6 There are three enduring characteristics of these movies that make them particularly compelling to consumers:

  • they are movies of a high quality, at least in terms of box office success;
  • this is the first time they are shown on TV and consumers typically value films more the closer they are to their theatrical release date; and
  • they are available via subscription and subscription services are in greater demand than pay-per-view ('PPV') or transactional video on demand ('VoD'), given the convenience of not paying for each movie.

1.7 To date, subscription to packages of linear channels showing first-run movies has been the most compelling movies offer on TV. However, the importance of linear movie channels appears to be gradually declining over time. Subscription services offering recent movies on demand present an important long-term proposition. They offer consumers many of the same characteristics as linear channels, but with the added convenience of providing access to a wide range of content on demand.

1.8 We consider that the combination of the features has resulted in a situation in which Sky has control of premium movie rights. We are concerned that Sky will maintain and exploit its market power by restricting the distribution of its movies channels and exploitation of SVoD rights. In the longer term we are concerned that as Sky develops its SVoD services, its current market power in relation to linear channels could be transferred across to these new services. Therefore, it is unlikely that, absent intervention, competition will develop and consumers will benefit in terms of choice and innovation.

1.9 Our preference would have been for a commercial solution to address the competition issues identified. In the Third Pay TV Consultation, we noted the evolving nature of the market and explored whether the studios' existing commercial plans were likely to result in the wider availability of premium movie services . However, our discussions with the studios gave us a clear view that change was unlikely.

1.10 We conclude that it is appropriate to make a reference to the CC and in exercising our discretion to refer, we have considered in particular the four criteria set out in the Office of Fair Trading ('OFT') Guidance on market investigation references ('the OFT Guidance'), namely:

  • the suitability or otherwise of using our Competition Act 1998 ('CA98') or other sectoral powers. Our powers under Section 316 of the Communications Act 2003 ('CA03') do not adequately extend to VoD services, whilst action under CA98 is unlikely to be effective as a means of addressing our concerns ;
  • whether the problem could be addressed through undertakings. We consider that adverse effects in competition arise from the complex interrelationship between several features of the market, involving the unilateral conduct of several firms. Negotiating undertakings with multiple parties poses serious potential difficulties. In any event, no undertakings in lieu were offered by any party;
  • proportionality and whether the scale of the suspected problem, in terms of its adverse effect on competition, is such that a reference would be an appropriate response. We believe that a market reference is a proportionate response to the persistent nature of competition concerns and the scale of the sector impacted by these concerns i.e. a significant proportion of the markets identified; and
  • whether there is a reasonable chance that appropriate remedies will be available. We consider that there is a reasonable prospect that the CC has appropriate remedies available to it. We consider that there are two broad approaches:
    • the CC could seek to change the way in which key premium movie rights are bought and sold. Such intervention may involve restrictions on the ability of firms to aggregate different types of rights or requirements to make the sale process more contestable; and
    • the CC could intervene to reduce Sky's ability to act on incentives to exploit market power, by requiring it to provide wholesale access to linear and SVoD premium movie content on regulated terms.