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EU Launches Antitrust Probe Into Hollywood Studios' European Pay TV Deals

The Hollywood Sign - Los Angeles - H 2011
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The investigation will look at country-by-country content deals with TV distributors across the 28-nation European Union, including BSkyB in the U.K.

LONDON -- Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, Time Warner's Warner Brothers unit, NBCUniversal's Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures and Viacom's Paramount Pictures face a European Union antitrust probe into film licensing deals with pay TV operators in Europe.

The European Commission, the lawmaking arm of the European Union, announced the investigation on Monday.

It will probe deals with such European pay TV giants as the U.K.'s BSkyB, in which 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake; Vivendi's Canal Plus; Fox's Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland; and DTS in Spain.

The probe will look into contracts that prevent pay TV firms from offering content outside their home nation, the European Commission said.

"The provisions granting absolute territorial protection ensure that the films licensed by the U.S. studios are shown exclusively in the member state where each broadcaster operates via satellite and the Internet," it said in a statement. "These films cannot be made available outside that member state, even in response to unsolicited requests from potential subscribers."

The probe could affect the ability of pay TV operators to charge different prices to show studio films across the 28-nation bloc.

The European Commission said there was no deadline for it to complete its probe and the opening of an investigation "didn't prejudge the outcome of the case."