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UK Regulator To Probe BSkyB Over Withholding Claim Lodged By Rival BT

By | Wednesday June 19, 2013 @ 8:17am PDT

The battle between BT and BSkyB continues to mount with UK regulator Ofcom opening an investigation into the News Corp.-controlled pay-TV group on the back of a complaint brought by BT. In the claim, which BT filed in late May, the group alleges that BSkyB has engaged in an abuse of dominant position by withholding its sports channels from BT’s YouView platform unless BT supplies its own sports channels to Sky for retail on Sky’s platform. Ofcom says it believes there are reasonable grounds for suspecting an infringement under the 1998 Competition Act and will consider whether Sky has abused a dominant position under UK and/or EU law. BT and Sky have become fierce competitors especially where sports, notably soccer, are concerned. BT is in the process of acquiring ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business and is launching a new Sport TV package this summer which it is offering for free to its broadband customers. BSkyB and BT share the rights to Britain’s Premiere League soccer games with the former holding 116 live matches and the latter 38. The season kicks off in August. Sky said today it considers BT’s complaint to be “entirely without merit.” Sky group director of corporate affairs Graham McWilliam added, “In long negotiations … Read More »

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Ofcom Enlists ISPs And Copyright Owners In New Draft Code On Illegal Downloading

By | Tuesday June 26, 2012 @ 3:54am PDT

The UK government and regulator, Ofcom, are taking the next steps to bring the Digital Economy Act’s mass notification system on copyright infringement into effect. After a court case slowed down the legislation, Ofcom’s new draft code is now expected to head to Parliament later this year. The code calls on ISPs to alert subscribers when their connection is suspected of being used to illegally share films or music. For now, the code covers ISPs with more than 400K broadband customers including BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin. BT and Talk Talk had previously argued that it was not for them to police their customers, but they lost on appeal. ISPs will also be required to explain to subscribers how they can protect their networks and where they can find licensed content. Copyright owners in turn are expected to invest in awareness campaigns and develop “attractive online services to offer their content.” The government, for its part, has put secondary legislation before Parliament that would see the notification system paid for by rights holders with ISPs paying a smaller element. Read More »

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London Olympics Readies For Global Media And Their Record Spectrum Demands

With 26,000 members of the global media converging in London this summer, the 2012 Olympic Games will be the biggest media event in history. As such, Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom, says demand from wireless technologies will more than double in the capital during the Games’ seven-week run — testing the country’s spectrum reserves like never before. With wireless spectrum already at full capacity in London for many of the applications to be used during the Olympics, Ofcom has devised plans to manage the airwaves including borrowing spectrum from public sector bodies like the Ministry of Defence. It will also free up unused civil frequencies and make use of spectrum that’s available without a license. Ofcom has been at the task since 2006, shortly after London won the bid to host the Games. Tests have been run in the past year, including at the April 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. During the Games, up to 20,000 wireless frequencies will be assigned for such technologies as wireless cameras, microphones, timing and scoring systems and sports commentary systems. That’s more than double the number usually assigned in a year. Read More »

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Ofcom Releases UK TV Advertising Findings

By | Thursday December 15, 2011 @ 7:56am PST

Ofcom, Britain’s communications regulator and competition authority, today announced the conclusion of a review of how TV advertising is bought and sold in the UK. Back in June, the organization stated that it would look into the business of advertising to determine if certain practices could prevent, restrict or distort competition. Particular areas of concern were transparency of pricing; bundling of airtime combined with the possible market strength of different companies; and the limited evolution of the trading model and its possible impact on innovation. Having found no clear evidence of harm to consumers, the group opted not to refer the matter to the Competition Commission. Separately, Ofcom has concluded that the rules governing the number of minutes of advertising on UK TV are sufficient and for the moment require no action.

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Global Showbiz Briefs: China, UK

By | Saturday October 1, 2011 @ 4:00am PDT

Alibaba Group’s Chief Exec Wants To Buy Yahoo
Jack Ma, chairman and CEO of China’s e-commerce company Alibaba Group, said he is “very, very interested” in acquiring Yahoo and discussed options with other potential buyers, according to Reuters. Buying the entire company might be a reach for Alibaba. Ma had tried to buy back Yahoo’s 40% stake in his company before, but was rebuffed by recently fired CEO Carol Bartz. Alibaba formed a strategic partnership with Yahoo in 2005, acquiring Yahoo China. Ma talked about his intentions at the China 2.0 conference at Stanford University on Friday, but said he had not met with anyone at Yahoo since arriving in the U.S. two weeks ago. Yahoo last week told staff of its sale progress and its search for a new CEO.

Complaints And Parents’ Concerns Spur New Guidelines From Ofcom
UK media regulator Ofcom is handing down new guidelines about sexually explicit music videos airing before the 9 PM watershed. In its warning to broadcasters, the watchdog included research that showed 11% of parents were concerned about raunchy performances in music videos. Broadcasters are also being asked to mask or edit any offensive language. The guidelines come after last year’s X Factor controversy in which Ofcom received 4,500 complaints about performances by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera. It also recently received complaints for a 9 AM airing on Greatest Hits TV of a 50 Cent video featuring topless dancers.

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UPDATE: UK Regulator Asks If News Corp Is Fit To Own BSkyB After Growing Scandal Leads To Inquiries And Arrest

Analysis: Rupert Murdoch Sacrificed News Of The World For BSkyB Deal

UPDATE, 11:35 AM: Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, says it has concerns as to whether News Corp is a fit-and-proper owner for BSkyB in light of the worsening News of the World scandal. James Murdoch has admitted News International effectively misled the UK Parliament while he approved secret out-of-court settlements for illegal activity. Ofcom says it is monitoring the situation closely. If the regulator does launch an enquiry, it would further delay News Corp’s 100% takeover of BSkyB. The UK government has already delayed this until fall. BSkyB’s shares fell by 8% this afternoon as the City absorbed Ofcom’s concerns. Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, has called for the UK government to put the deal on hold. The £9 billion ($14 billion) takeover of BSkyB is the biggest deal of Rupert Murdoch’s career.

In what has been a disastrous day for News Corp, even Prime Minister David Cameron has distanced himself from his friend Rebekah Brooks — the CEO of newspaper arm News International, who was editor of News of the World when the alleged phone hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and families of London bombing victims took place. At an emergency press conference this morning, Cameron said that if Rebekah Brooks offered her resignation to him, he would have taken it. Brooks again addressed News of the World staff this afternoon, although she … Read More »

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James Murdoch Bares Teeth Over Sky Bid

James Murdoch has warned the UK government that News Corp could move overseas if the regulator blocks its £7.8 billion ($12.5 billion) bid for BSkyB. News Corp’s European and Asian boss made the veiled threat talking to investment bank analysts in Barcelona. The government must decide whether it wants to risk “jeopardising an £8 billion investment in the UK” with a prolonged investigation, Murdoch said, noting that News Corp could relocate some of its most innovative projects to more “welcoming” countries if the UK blocks its bid for BSkyB. “From India to Italy and to Germany, countries are becoming more welcoming of investment and more welcoming of what we can bring,” Murdoch said. Read More »

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Sky About To Sell Its 7.5% Stake In ITV? Will NBC Or Even Simon Cowell Become Bidders?

By | Friday November 12, 2010 @ 9:17am PST

City analysts tell me the reason why ITV’s stock price is creeping up again is because BSkyB could be selling its share of ITV. “It would look better from a regulatory point of view,” says Paul Richards of Numis, referring to UK competition regulator Ofcom investigating News Corp’s bid to own Sky outright. (ITV was noticeably absent from the list of signatories including the BBC and Channel 4 who wrote to UK business secretary Vince Cable last month warning him about the deal. Media analyst Claire Enders tells me: “ITV has a lot to gain by cuddling up to BSkyB.”) RTL, Europe’s largest TV company, has been mentioned as one possible buyer of Sky’s ITV stake. NBC is another name in the mix since ITV’s news arm ITN already tailors news stories for the U.S. broadcaster. And Simon Cowell has said he’s been asked by various people in the States whether he’d be interested in putting together a joint bid for ITV. ITV itself is doing well, with its projected December ad revenue figures outperforming last year’s which bodes well for prospects in 2011.

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Simon Cowell’s 6th ‘X Factor’ Scandal In UK

Fox brass are getting more and more nervous  about the way Simon Cowell is conducting this controversial but lucrative 7th series of The X Factor in the UK before the show comes to the U.S. in Fall 2011. Viewers are ringing up ITV and TV regulator Ofcom complaining that Sunday’s vote show was rigged. They’re mad because Treyc Cohen, 28, was booted off The X Factor after a sing-off with tabloid favourite Katie Waissel, whose panic attacks and other escapades make for better ratings than Cohen’s serviceable voice but dull presence. One judge abstained after two other judges, including Simon Cowell, voted to send Cohen home, and a fourth judge voted for her to stay. Had that judge not abstained, creating deadlock, then the public vote would have decided the winner, which would have been Cohen Read More »

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Puttnam: Murdoch Takeover “Extremely Damaging To Informed Democratic Debate”

Speaking in the House of Lords, the UK equivalent of the Senate, David Puttnam said that News Corp’s bid to take control of BSkyB posed a threat to democracy. Here are excerpts from the speech given by the one-time Columbia Pictures boss:

My Lords… I had the honour of entering your Lordships House thirteen years ago tomorrow. Since that time there have been three or four really big issues with which I’ve consistently tried to engage – in part because they relate to experiences gained in my former life, but also because I believe they represent the type of issues upon which rests the future of the type of society most of us would wish to live in… My Lords, the purpose of this afternoon’s debate is to draw attention to the possibility that we are on the edge of a very slippery slope – one that could find us falling further and further under the influence of a single, US-based owner, with a highly questionable interest in the benefits of a diverse and flourishing plural media here in the United Kingdom. So why this debate, and why now?

The primary reason My Lords is that News Corporation yesterday notified the European Commission of its intention to purchase the 61% of BSkyB that it does not presently own. As I’ve already mentioned, this morning we heard the welcome news that this proposal had been referred by the Secretary of State, to Ofcom. It’s my most sincere hope that the Coalition’s proposed ‘trimming’ of Ofcom’s powers will not result in any diminution of its capacity to exercise those powers in respect of important matters such as this.

There, are of course, a number of aspects to media plurality – notably the Government’s proposals to repeal the local “cross-media” ownership laws, but this afternoon I only have time to focus on the really big issue resulting from News Corporation’s power, reach and influence. It’s my contention that if regulators and legislators in Europe and the UK remain supine, and simply wave this proposed acquisition through, the consequences for the citizens, as well as the political class in this country could become deeply troubling. The purchase of these shares would give News Corporation an unprecedented level of control over the UK media, one that to my mind has the potential to be extremely damaging, not just in respect of media plurality, but to informed democratic debate as a whole.

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UK Government Probes Murdoch BSkyB Bid

Vince Cable, the British business secretary, has ordered media regulator Ofcom (the UK’s equivalent of America’s FCC) to investigate Rupert Murdoch’s plan to take full control of the pay-TV operator BSkyB. He’s intervened now that News Corp has formally notified the European authorities of its plans for a 100% takeover of BSkyB. Rival media groups keep complaining that would concentrate too many news outlets under one person’s control. Murdoch already owns 3 of the Britain’s biggest newspapers. Ofcom now has until the end of this year to decide whether the takeover would harm UK media plurality.

News Corp says it looks forward to discussing the takeover with the authorities now that it has delivered a 1,000-page document to Brussels-based competition regulators who will decide whether there are grounds for a deeper anti-trust investigation by December 8. Claire Enders, the media analyst who wrote to Cable back in September warning him about the impact of the Sky takeover, tells me: “We expected that this step would be taken. The law is reasonably straightforward, and the transaction always seemed to us to meet the conditions for a decision in favor of an intervention.”

Murdoch’s plans will come under concerted attack in the House of Lords today. David Puttnam will tell his fellow Lords that the buy-out would make Murdoch the most dominant … Read More »

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Rupert Murdoch Blasts Anti-News Corp Alliance Opposed To BSkyB Bid

Rupert Murdoch took a swipe at rival media groups striving to block News Corp’s takeover of BSkyB and accused them of petty thinking. In what was billed as his first major speech in the UK since 1989, Murdoch tonight was the inaugural speaker of the Margaret Thatcher Lecture series at the UK’s conservative Center For Policy Studies in London. He said: “When the upstart is too successful, somehow the old interests surface, and restrictions on growth are proposed or imposed. That’s an issue for my company … These are small thinkers who believe their job is to cut the cake up rather than make it bigger.” Murdoch was referring to bosses of some of Britain’s biggest media groups — including the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and Channel 4 – who have written a joint letter to British business secretary Vince Cable calling for him to intervene. The government minister has the power to refer News Corp’s proposal to UK media regulator Ofcom (equivalent of America’s FCC), potentially derailing the £8 billion takeover. BSkyB is likely to notify Brussels officially of News Corp’s takeover intentions by the end of October. That starts the clock for the business secretary, who has to make a decision on whether to intervene within 2 weeks after that. 

In what at times was a self-effacing speech – at one point he referred to himself as a “parvenu” – Murdoch paid tribute to the former British prime minister and her legacy. Murdoch also … Read More »

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UK Broadcasters Could Be Forced To Carry Local News Bulletins

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt raised the possibility of Sky also being told to run local news, at least in the short term. Otherwise it could risk being demoted on where it sits on electronic TV listings. Hunt thinks that Sky and other broadcasters will end up paying local TV news suppliers because local news will prove popular. He’s asked UK communications regulator Ofcom to look into local TV news provision. Hunt, speaking at this morning’s Royal Television Society International Conference in London, raised the possibility of public broadcasters who invest in local news ranking higher on the Electronic Programme Guide. But Hunt ducked the question as to whether broadcasters who ignore local news will find themselves in turn demoted. The coalition culture secretary said that being on the first page of the EPG is worth £30 million ($48 million) a year in terms of revenue to a broadcaster. “I think that ITV and Channel 4 will both want to play their part,” Hunt told the RTS. “They get considerable benefit from their public service broadcaster status.” With analogue TV soon to be switched off here, where you sit on the EPG – ranked alongside 100s of other channels – is becoming increasingly important. As more and more households switch to digital television, a prominent position becomes increasingly important for the main channels to attract viewers from their smaller rivals.

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More Change For UK Film Organizations

The Daily Telegraph has been leaked a list of 177 taxpayer-funded agencies to be abolished by the new British government. There’s a question mark over the British Council, which promotes UK film culture abroad. And the Film Industry Training Board, chaired by A-Team producer Iain Smith, is set to be privatised. (Smith told me the government’s decision came out of the blue. “We are now trying to establish what it might involve.”) The BBC World Service just announced Read More »

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Sky Faces Splitting Up Movie Business

By | Wednesday August 4, 2010 @ 3:58am PDT

UPDATE: The pay-TV giant could be forced to separate its consumer movie channels and the way it sells those channels to rivals. Ofcom, the communications regulator, has referred Sky’s dominance of the movie pay-TV business to Brussels. The Competition Commission will spend up to 2 years investigating Sky. Separating its consumer movie channels from its wholesale business would be worst case scenario though. What’s at stake are fears that Sky could dominate the coming subscription video-demand movie business the same way it has dominated movie channels for the past decade. Ofcom is concerned that the way Sky sells and distributes movies distorts the market in its favour. “The end result for consumers is less choice, less innovation and higher prices,” says Ofcom.

Virgin Media says: “We’ve long argued that current arrangements for the supply and acquisition of premium movies do not serve consumers well. We’re pleased that these issues are now going to be the subject of further detailed examination by the Competition Commission.”

But Sky slammed Ofcom for yet again seeking to intervene in a sector in which customers are well served. “Further prolonging this unnecessary investigation will only create uncertainty and serve to undermine incentives to invest and innovate, which is bad news for consumers,” BSkyB tells me.

Jonathan Davis, strategy adviser to a number of European public bodies, reminds me that Brussels told incumbent telco BT to separate … Read More »

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Viewers Must Know When They’re Watching Product Placement, Says UK Regulator

By | Monday June 28, 2010 @ 8:11am PDT

Product Placement LogosBroadcasters must let TV viewers know which programmes contain product placement, according to new rules published today. A symbol will appear at the start and end of programmes, says communications regulator Ofcom.

The UK government is finally allowing product placement, after years of lobbying from commercial broadcasters. Europe has already says yes. Broadcasters hope product placement will go some way to making up lost ad revenue.

PQ Media estimates that in its first year the UK product placement will be worth in excess of £54 million ($81 million) and over £270 million across Europe. This is predicted to grow at 30% year on year, meaning that after five years the market could be worth £154.6 million in the UK.

Critics have compared product placement to Agent Orange when it comes to destroying quality television. It’s still going to be banned in news programmes, religious programmes and in children’s programmes. But banning product placement from kid’s TV is not the same as banning it from all programmes children watch.

At one point, the old Labour government said it wasn’t going to allow TV product placement. A previous culture minister said there was a lack of evidence for the economic benefits considering the cultural impact. And he was concerned about blurring the lines between ads and editorial.

The UK has always had a schizophrenic attitude towards product placement in any case. On the one hand, it has always been allowed in films. Indeed, sometimes … Read More »

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