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Watchdogs probe Sky dominance on pay-TV

Should we be able to watch the football how we want?

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Ofcom has launched an investigation today into whether consumers are being harmed by Sky's movie and sport rights-buying supremacy.

There are "warning signs" that people's choice is being limited by the way the market operates, the communications watchdog said, though it has "not yet reached a view on the existence of competition problems".

The probe has been triggered by the proliferation of new pay-TV platforms from ISPs, and the public spat over broadcast rights charges earlier this year between Sky and Virgin Media.

Virgin Media led BT, Setanta and Top-up TV in a complaint to regulators in March. They alleged that Sky's behaviour when it buys broadcast rights is stifling the market and consumer choice.

The Murdoch-owned satellite broadcaster controls 80 per cent of the UK pay-TV sector, and is aiming for more via a new terrestrial platform, which is under a separate Ofcom investigation.

Chief among Ofcom's worries is that because Sky owns both the rights, and the broadcasting platform for Premiership football, for example, it is in its interest to prevent live matches appearing on other outlets such as BT Vision.

Sky responded to the complaint by telling Ofcom that its rivals are "entirely divorced from the reality of the current conditions of competition".

The practice of forcing consumers to pay for a "basics" package before they can access more expensive channels will also come under scrutiny by the investigation, which will report in Spring with a further consultation in spring 2008.

It's possible that Sky will be forced to offer its sports channels on a price-controlled wholesale basis to other broadcasters.

You can respond to the consultation here. ®

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