TV football too expensive says Virgin Media, asks Ofcom to investigate

Virgin Media’s asked the UK’s telecoms regulator to investigate the escalating costs of Premier League live TV broadcast rights, fearing “significant consumer harm” due to high prices.

Does it cost too much to watch the Barclays Premier League on the box? Virgin Media thinks so, and its asked UK telecoms regulator Ofcom to start an investigation into how the TV rights to it are sold.

The provider believes footie fans are already forced to pay more than is fair to watch matches live on television, and claims the cost of the rights will go up 60% in the next auction, meaning fans will be forced to pay even more.

Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media's chief corporate affairs officer, said: "The rapidly rising cost of Premier League live broadcast rights means UK fans pay the highest prices in Europe to watch football on TV."

And that's exactly why ol' Trafford and Virgin Media want Ofcom involved - so the regulator can prevent "significant consumer harm resulting from escalating rights costs" by launching an investigation under the Competition Act 1998, and making changes to how the TV broadcast rights for top-flight football are sold.

broadbandchoices' own TV industry guru, Dominic Baliszewski, said: "Virgin Media's challenge, if upheld, has a very real chance of bringing down the price TV providers will pay for Premier League rights, perhaps significantly so, which should allow customers to benefit from price reductions, more content, or both.

"If this happens, it would make a welcome change from the usual pattern of increasing wholesale costs - for example, gas and electricity - being passed on to customers in the form of higher bills."

During the Premier League's last live broadcast rights auction, in which BT and Sky shared the seven packages available, the cost of the rights, which covered 2013-2016, went up 70% to £3billion.

The next set of three-year deals will be auctioned next year, before the end of the current season. Virgin Media filed its complaint to Ofcom two weeks ago, and the regulator will reveal in late October or early November if it's going to get involved in the next auction.

Although it's potentially good news, as if Ofcom agrees with Virgin Media it may drive down the cost of watching Premier League football on TV, it'll be a while before that happens.

As our Dominic Baliszewski said: "Whilst a reduction in the cost of Premier League viewing will make many sports fans happy, they could be in for a wait before seeing any change as it would be at least a year before new pricing could be implemented.

"Anyone who doesn't want to wait a year for cheaper sports TV can still make savings now as there are several very strong offers available at the moment as providers fight to attract new customers.

"For example, Virgin Media is currently offering Sky Sports and BT Sport channels on a 12 month discount, whilst BT is still offering free BT Sport to broadband customers. Anyone thinking they can't afford premium sports should compare their options as prices for premium TV may be less than they think."

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