Rupert Murdoch’s Fox and Netherlands-based Ziggo Sport — owned by John Malone’s Liberty Global and Vodafone — said they had been targeted in a European Commission investigation into a possible cartel in sports broadcasting rights.
Broadcasters spend billions of euros to buy exclusive rights to show top-flight sport such as England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga to attract viewers.
The commission said it had carried out unannounced inspections in several member states at companies that distribute “media rights and related rights pertaining to various sports events and/or their broadcasting”.
Fox Networks Group, an operating unit of Mr Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox which distributes TV and cable channels around the world, said it was co-operating with the inspection after officials raided its offices in London.
“The commission has concerns that the companies involved may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices,” said the commission in a statement.
Ziggo Sport, owned by Liberty Global and Vodafone, said it was also involved.
“We have been informed that the European Commission is inspecting several media companies in Europe, including Ziggo Sport,” it said.
Liberty Global, in turn, owns the Virgin Media cable firm and TV3 broadcaster.
“Ziggo Sport is cooperating fully with the European Commission’s inspection and is unable to comment further at this stage,” the Dutch firm said.
The raid comes at a difficult time for Fox, which is engaged in a string of deals that are facing regulatory approval, and for Ziggo’s owners Vodafone and Liberty Global which could soon be in a similar position.
Fox is battling Comcast and British regulators for the right to buy Europe’s biggest pay-TV company Sky for around €12bn, while it has also agreed to sell a string of assets to Walt Disney for around €42bn.
Vodafone, meanwhile, is in talks to buy some of Liberty Global’s cable networks in some other European countries where they both operate, chief of which is Germany.
Shares in Sky were down about 1% in London, while Vodafone shares were slightly higher.
In New York, Liberty Global shares rose 2% at one stage.
- Reuters; Additional reporting Irish Examiner