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MTV denies monopoly charge in U.S. probe

DOJ investigates alleged demands for exclusivity

MTV Networks defended its practices regarding musicvideos Wednesday, denying charges that the company violated antitrust laws in its dealings with music labels.

The response came amid reports that the Dept. of Justice has launched an investigation into alleged monopolistic practices, including the possibility that MTV demands exclusive rights to its videos.

DOJ spokeswoman Jennifer Rose declined to comment on specifics regarding the investigation, but said, “We are investigating the possibility of potentially anticompetitive practices involving musicvideo networks.”

Exclusivity demands

Insiders said the DOJ is investigating allegations that MTV Networks demanded exclusivity from labels for airing musicvids on its MTV, VH1 and M2 networks, which would then conceivably prevent any competitor from launching its own music service.

Concerns over monopolistic practices grew stronger last May when Viacom announced it had acquired chief MTV competitor the Box as part of a larger arrangement with Liberty Media’s Liberty Digital unit.

“We’re cooperating with the Justice Dept. review of our acquisition of the Box and believe that they will ultimately find that the market in which we operate is highly competitive,” a Viacom spokeswoman said. “There is no violation of antitrust laws.”

But other sources note that in actuality, MTV has few competitors in the musicvideo business. With the Box acquisition, MTV’s chief competitors are now only Black Entertainment Television, which airs a variety of hip-hop and R&B videos, and the U.S. feed of Canada’s MuchMusic, which is seen in approximately 15 million homes.

Bigger footprint

In comparison, MTV reaches more than 72 million homes, while VH1 is available in almost 69 million homes.

A Viacom spokeswoman took issue with charges that MTV demands exclusives, noting that only four of approximately 1,000 videos aired on MTV were exclusives this year: Korn’s “Freak on a Leash,” Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie,” the Offspring’s “Why Don’t You Get a Job,” and the Spice Girls’ “Goodbye.”

The spokeswoman also noted that MTV is the only network to pay fees for musicvideos. The Box and MuchMusic don’t pay labels for use of videos, she said.

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