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Competition officials snap on fresh glove after 4-year Sky Movies probe

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The UK Competition Commission's four-year probe into Sky Movies has shifted gear, with the agency acknowledging that the market has changed significantly since it produced its interim judgment last summer.

Back then, the Commission decreed that Sky's "first-window" deals (technically referred to as the FSPTW or 'First subscription Pay TV window') with six major Hollywood studios were anti-competitive. A model was used to reckon that movie prices paid by Sky customers were £50m to £60m higher than they would otherwise be. Although Sky also offered the content to other broadcasters such as Virgin, the Commission decreed the price paid was too high and that there was no "effective" competition.

But since then, much has changed. Sky will make its movies available to anyone over any internet connection, rather than insisting punters sign up to Anytime+ using a Sky broadband connection. Sky has also set up a Movies Store and has expanded the catalogue available.

That's a response to two new OTT providers, Amazon-owned LOVEFiLM and Netflix, which have entered the UK market – and their presence is hard to escape. Although neither has snared a top-six studio for the first-run window in the UK, they have in Germany. The duelling OTT twosome have grabbed rights to new FSPTW movies, and acquired second and third window rights too.

So, with a bit of coughing and a shuffling of feet, the Commission notes that "... the volume and quality (in terms of UK box office success and recency) of content offered by LOVEFiLM and Netflix is much greater than that offered by the movie subscription services available on pay TV from market participants other than Sky at the time of our provisional findings."

In its submission, Hollywood studio Universal pointed out something interesting that the Commission had missed. Pay TV services offer a range of stuff, and the first-run movies are becoming a diminishing part of the mix. Sky itself is spending much more on its own original programming, as it attempts to lure lucrative highbrow viewers from the BBC through Sky Arts. As more broadcasters invest more in their content – HBO being the classic example – the Hollywood-Sky relationship is less crucial.

The Commission says it will now deliver a final report in July. ®

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