Fox Networks’ U.K. Offices Raided by EC Competition WatchdogsBy , , and
Companies in EU countries inspected in sports-rights probe
Inspections carried out in several European countries
Fox Networks and Ziggo Sport were among companies raided by European Union antitrust regulators as part of a probe into the distribution of sports-media rights.
The inspections were carried out in several EU countries at companies related to broadcasting rights for various sports events, the European Commission said in a statement late Tuesday. Officials are expected to stay through Wednesday and possibly Thursday at the West London offices of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Networks Group, according to the Daily Telegraph, which first reported the raid.
The probe comes at a difficult time for 21st Century Fox Inc., the owner of Fox Networks, which spent months trying to gain U.K. and EU approval to purchase Sky Plc, the big European pay-TV service. EU regulators approved the acquisition last April, but U.K. regulators continue to assess it as part of a separate media plurality review. Comcast Corp. topped Murdoch’s offer for Sky with a $31 billion bid in February.
Fox and Ziggo Sport said they are cooperating with officials. Antitrust raids by EU regulators are a first step in investigating suspected violations and don’t signal guilt, the commission said.
The raids may be an offshoot of a long-running EU probe into pay-TV rights. Regulators have been taking aim at industry contracts that prevent people from viewing movies and TV programs outside the country in which they are sold, focusing on Sky’s deals with major motion picture studios including Walt Disney Co., Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Brothers unit, Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, and Sony Pictures.
While the EU pay-TV probe has been simmering for years, the U.K. review of the Sky deal could be resolved within weeks as regulators prepare to turn in their final report of government ministers by May 1.
The inspections have already provided ammunition to opponents of Fox’s Sky takeover. Tom Watson, a Labour MP in the U.K. who is critical of the deal, took to Twitter to argue that Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority needs to find out if Fox has violated EU laws before it can rule on the deal.
“The raid on Fox offices is very concerning,” Watson said.
Last week, Fox offered to spin off Sky News as an independent company or sell it to Disney to address lawmakers’ concerns about having to much influence in British Media.
Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox has also agreed to sell most of its entertainment assets, including its stake in Sky to Disney in a $52.4 billion deal.
Ziggo, a joint venture between Liberty Global and Vodafone, has meanwhile been the subject of renewed dealmaking talks between the two companies in recent months.
— With assistance by Aoife White