EU probes into content hurdles for new media

The European Union’s executive branch intends to launch an inquiry to determine whether new media providers are being unfairly locked out of competition for content by TV, music and sports operators, European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said in a speech Thursday.

As countries like Sweden, Denmark, the U.K., Austria and Italy begin launching 3G (third generation) mobile networks and building broadband DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and cable connections to the Internet, it is the responsibility of competition regulators to insure the promotion of the “rapid and undisturbed development” of new media services that utilize those networks, Monti said.

In the initial findings of its inquiry, launched in January, into the sale of sports rights to 3G mobile operators, the Commission has already found “a generally negative attitude by the relevant players toward making premium content available for delivery over platforms different from the traditional ones,” Monti said in his speech, which was also made available on the Commission’s Web site.

In particular, Monti pointed to broadcasters and pay-TV operators that “acquire rights for delivery of content” for technologies that they don’t make use of.

“Recent developments such as in video on demand have shown that there is currently a very intense demand in that field, hindered however by strong tendencies by established TV operators to protect their position to the detriment of new technologies and new players,” Monti said.

The Commission’s second inquiry into content provision over the Internet, to be launched in the second half of this year, will focus on music, films and, as with the continuing inquiry, sports.

The Competition Commissioner added that the regulator intends to use “all the powerful legal instruments” it has at its disposal to level the playing field for new media “whose rapid and undisturbed development is one of the major goals for the Commission in the next years.”