TV broadcast to mobiles has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, but never more so than in 2005. Last year saw new handsets introduced across Europe, new consumer and audiovisual services and the inception of new pilot schemes. Numerous deals were struck, for example Vodafone linked up with BSkyB and other popular channels such as HBO. The summer saw the application of Mobile TV in the form of highlights from the Ashes. In winter, highlights, live transmissions and recaps of the day’s events were broadcast to mobiles from the Turin Games.
While the importance of the availability of a range of content is not to be underestimated, last year demonstrated that sporting coverage will be key to the uptake of Mobile TV. This view is shared by the European Commission. In the past three years, the Commission has made decisions in relation to proceedings involving the joint selling of media rights in a number of significant football licensing deals, including the UEFA Champions League and the English Premier League. On 21 September 2005, the Commission also concluded a sector-wide inquiry (3G Inquiry). This close scrutiny has revealed areas of concern in the Mobile TV market.
The first is the fairness of tender processes. In the UEFA Champions League case, concern was expressed that the sale of TV rights to one broadcaster, including mobile TV rights, for a period of years could result in the ensconcement of that broadcaster within the relevant market to the exclusion of other competitors. A fair tender process is clearly the best way to avoid such a situation.
The second is the length of contracts. Too many long contracts would clearly limit the development of the sector. This problem appears to have been avoided thus far, with the average duration for contracts being three years.
Cross-platform bundling versus unbundled rights is a further issue. In the 3G Inquiry, the Commission voiced concern that TV operators who hold a more dominant bargaining position might under-exploit the Mobile TV rights where they had purchased these in conjunction with TV rights. As such the Commission preferred that TV and Mobile TV rights were sold independently of one another, or ‘unbundled’. The Commission will monitor what bundled sales have already taken place.
There is also concern that overly restrictive conditions on rights bought by mobile operators might be a limiting factor on the market. The Commission will monitor situations in which there are restrictions in the timing of coverage (live or deferred) or the length of broadcasts, to see if these would limit the amount of investment by operators in new technologies. The Commission also intends to target situations where serious time embargoes limit the availability of 3G content.
The 3G Inquiry report also discusses the sale of media sports rights from a number of different parties in a joint arrangement. This kind of arrangement was viewed as positive in that it may produce efficiencies and consumer benefits. However, it was emphasised that in order to protect the rights of the single parties involved, any unused rights should revert to the individual rightsholder for individual sale.
Finally, the Commission considered exclusive access contracts for mobile operators. Its conclusions were that exclusivity could have pro-competitive effects and that there were no instances of such provisions leading to operators obtaining or protecting positions of market power. However, it resolved to keep this under review.
It is clear that sports content in Mobile TV has been carefully monitored by the Commission and detailed guidance has been provided to that sector. However, there has been a marked dearth of guidance to the non-sport sector. This may prove problematic. For instance, Mobile TV operators may not be aware of the Commission’s proposed extension of the Television Without Frontiers Directive to apply to all technologies. This Directive obliges all operators, in selecting content, to be sensitive to the same factors as ordinary TV operators.
With a number of high profile deals already completed, Mobile TV looks to be well on track to continue its rapid development. It is therefore all the more important that companies monitor and follow the rules which are applicable, so as to avoid anti-competitive behaviour.