(CN) - Antitrust questions that arise from licensing deals between U.S. movie studios and EU cable providers merit investigation, the European Commission said Monday.
Studios - including 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal and Paramount Pictures - routinely license audiovisual content to pay-TV broadcasters on an exclusive and territorial basis. The licenses typically involve a single EU state or a few member states with a common language.
These provisions raise questions from regulators, however, because they keep broadcasters from showing the programming in other EU countries or impede cross-border access to films and TV shows. The commission said such "absolute territorial protection" clauses may stifle competition.
Its investigation involves Europe's largest pay-TV providers, including BSkyB in the U.K., Canal Plus of France, Sky Italia, Germany's Sky Deutschland and DTS of Spain.
Regulators cited as precedent the Court of Justice's 2011 decisionin the Premiere League/Murphy cases, which examined exclusive television licenses of soccer matches. There, the EU's highest court determined that exclusive territorial broadcast rights killed both competition and the ongoing dream of a single EU market by creating divisions along member-state border lines.
The court also rejected arguments that territorial licensing agreements are necessary to ensure that rightholders get paid, given the ability to calculate viewership anywhere the broadcasts are received.
Both the studios and cable providers have been notified of the investigation, which the commission said has been given priority status.