Brussels, 12 May 2000
Commission approves the EBU-Eurovision system
The Commission has adopted a decision that grants an exemption from normal antitrust law to the rules of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) governing the joint acquisition and sharing of broadcasting rights for sports events in the framework of the Eurovision system. The exemption is valid until 2005.
The EBU is an association of European broadcasters. It has 68 active members in 49 countries situated in the European broadcasting area and 50 associate members in 30 countries outside this area. Its members are mostly public service broadcasters.
The Eurovision system operated by the EBU and its members consists in the joint acquisition of television rights to programmes and the exchange of these programmes among the broadcasters. As far as sports programmes are concerned, it includes also rules for contractual access to such programmes for third parties.
The Commission concluded in its decision that the notified arrangements fall within the scope of Article 81 (1) of the European Union Treaty and Article 53 (1) of the European Economic Agreement (15 EU states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), but that the criteria for an individual exemption are met.
The joint acquisition of rights, the sharing of them and the exchange of television signals to international sports events restricts competition between the EBU members. However, the system provides for a number of improvements - reduction of transaction and other costs - which benefit in particular small member channels from smaller countries, allowing them to show more sports programmes and of better quality than would otherwise be the case. In addition, the cooperation of member channels within the Eurovision System facilitates cross-border broadcasting and contributes to the development of a single European broadcasting market.
This exemption is granted until 31st December 2005, but is subject to conditions and obligations. They include in particular two schemes, dating from 1993 and 1999, respectively, for access of non-member commercial channels to sports rights jointly acquired in the framework of the Eurovision system.
Access has to be granted on reasonable terms and conditions for deferred transmissions, extracts and news, but also live transmissions with regard to all events which the EBU members do not themselves broadcast live. As far as the use of such rights by EBU members on pay-TV channels is concerned, the sublicensing rules give the non-EBU member the right to broadcast on its pay-TV channel identical or comparable competitions to those presented on the EBU member's pay-TV channel.
On 3 April 1989 the EBU had applied for negative clearance or for an exemption pursuant to Article 81 (3) in respect of the Eurovision system.
The Commission adopted an exemption decision on 11 June 1993, but this decision was later annulled by the Court of First Instance in a judgment of 11 July 1996, due in particular to the fact that French pay-TV company Canal Plus was a member.
EBU subsequently changed its rules and Canal Plus is no longer a member of the Eurovision system.
The Commission also took into account in granting the exemption that EBU has significantly lost market share during the last ten years as a result of new entrants into the market and the increased capacity devoted to sports broadcasts which caused a sharp rise in the prices of the TV rights for sports events.