At last: the ruling on TV rights in the UK is out – and the EPL has lost

By Tony Attwood

The highest court in the European Union has ruled that it is legal for individuals within the EU to buy set-top box decoder cards from other EU broadcasters and watch whatever they have to offer.  The ruling cannot be appealed.

That means that in the UK, for example, we don’t suffer the duopoly of Sky and the Mickey Mouse channel any more.  Although it will take months for the issue to get into English law, there is no chance of any prosecutions being followed up, for by the time they got to court the law would have changed.

It also means that we can go and buy decoders from any country we like, and if that country is showing live saturday afternoon games, we can watch those – just as I found I could do recently in Cyprus.

In a curious twist the ruling says that you can’t show such games in a pub without permission of the EPL, which basically means we all stop buying from Sky and go and buy from the cheapest.  Or continue to watch on dodgy free internet channels.  As you wish.

Selling TV rights country by country however has been deemed contrary to the fundamentals of the EU, which aims to create one market.

The EPL currently makes over £1.5bn from a three year arrangement with Sky, plus money from EPSN and the BBC along with another £1bn for rights outside the UK.

The whole case is a huge own goal for the EPL which actually started the case by trying to stop a single pub in Portsmouth from using Greek cards to show saturday afternoon matches.   They will claim they have won that case – but as a result the rest of us can go and buy any decoder card we want and set our satellite dish to point at any part of the sky in direct line.

So that horror of TV regulation – the refusal to sell 3pm Saturday games – at last is over, and we will all be able to watch.  Given that many of us turn the sound off anyway because the commentaries have become so biased, the fact that it is all in Greek is neither here nor there.  Uefa are going to be in a mess too, since they sell rights on a country by country basis.  In fact Uefa potentially stands to lose a huge chunk of its income and this could be the final twist that leads to the breakaway European league run by clubs.

In one hilarious twist we have found that things like the jingles they have at the start of programmes (the broadcasters laughingly call them anthems but they are just mindless jingles) are copyright, so overseas broadcasters will have to cut them out or pay a minimal fine.  If they cut them most of us will again be thrilled.

It is being suggested that the copyright owners like Sky will start playing copyright music when a goal is scored, and I am sure there are some people who will think that is so good they will love that.  But writing software that override such a sound, or indeed taking out the sound from Sky totally is so simple I can’t see this having any effect.  The same is true with special graphics.   I mean, people can break into the government’s own web sites – they are not going to be stuck at striking out graphics.  Besides the fines would be tiny – copyright breach fines relate to the value of the item being nicked, not an absolute value.

So overall, the EPL has just kicked itself in the teeth – no mean feat (or feet).  And en route they’ve done in all trans-Euro selling of films, shows, and all sports.

The only way out for the EPL I can see is to give the licence to Sky for the whole of Europe and charge a load more than now – but that doesn’t take into account the growth of internet availability of games.  There gets to a point where it simply is all too expensive.   And given that we will all from today be able to get decoders from all over Europe, are they really going to turn us all off in 18 months when the new deal is signed?

The word in the up market press is, nothing much will change.   But the ability to watch the games you want at 3pm on a saturday, plus all through the week, is something else.  I think in the next 18 months football will change.


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8 Replies to “At last: the ruling on TV rights in the UK is out – and the EPL has lost”

  1. Sorry, I mistyped my own email address

    “Given that I had boycoted sky, this is extremely good news to me. I now need to go shopping for a new (Greek or any other EU) decoder/card. Bravo!”

  2. ha ah ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! next we need a rule that may just see the likes of gary neville, mark lawrenson et al banned from talking about football in front of a TV camera.
    Is there any hope that there might be a case for restricting the amount of polyfiller a journalist can pad out an article with? save the environment be more concise, if you said it yesterday, spend today doing some research, don’t write the same tripe over and over- a tax frivolous use of paper!

  3. Tony……when I was in Germany I could get the Free-to-air satellite channels that broadcast British Football matches in the afternoon and often saw Arsenal as well as other EPL teams play live. Does this option not exist for British (English) FTA satellite owners?
    I also remember our apartment/condo committe (old Nazis of course) trying to stop us from using our 60cm. satellite dish on our 14th story balcony but because we were foreigners (Canadians) we were legally allowed by an EU ruling and the status of armed forces agreement rulings, to use a satellite dish to capture FTA programs and channels.

  4. Hi Tony

    I interviewed a city lawyer about this earlier in the year – he thought digital might ultimately have a massive downward impact on TV rights.

    When you think about it – all the infrastructure SKY has is largely redundant nowdays – they could just as easily stick the game on premium Youtube…

    How far away is that?

  5. Over here we have the early saturday kick off, one 3.00am game live and the late kickoff.
    On Sunday also we have at least one game and also the monday evening game if there is one.

    On average we have 4 live games in the EPL. That is if the sports channel doesn’t go for a Bundesliga game (which seems to happen more and more I have the feeling)

    So I don’t think for us will change not that much.

    Unless we get the pay per view opportunity where we can order a game we want.

    I did this for the first time for our game in the CL and the quality of the stream was extremely good I must say. The only negative thing was I had to pay 3Euro to Uefa. It still makes me feel sick. 😉

  6. The biggest losers out of this is going to be the smaller to medium sized clubs.

    The big clubs will still have huge commercial and owner revenues, the others wont

    Can also see it resulting in new competitions being set up to get around the law.

  7. A fine own goal it is !Does this mean that there will be less money to pay the pundits and other so called experts? I for one will not be weeping.
    In Malaysia viewers( who subscribe )get to see almost all the games live every weekend as well as some delayed telecasts and highlights.Add to this the live Champions League games & highlights plus cup ties and internationals,we are overloaded.
    For me only the Arsenal game do I watch .The rest I flip through
    on & off with the remote-I just can’t stand watching any other team for 90 mins.
    I await the day we can subscibe directly to AFC and are able to watch all the Arsenal teams(ie ladies, youth etc) on tv and indirectly ( or is that directly)add to the coffers,while excluding all 3 parties.

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