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EC to rule on pay TV deals

Org probes uncompetitive pacts

BRUSSELS — The day of reckoning could be approaching for Hollywood studios and Europe’s payboxes as a European Union verdict on their movie deals draws nearer.

Officials at EU executive arm the Commission said Monday that the preliminary investigation into the contracts is almost complete, and initial conclusions about whether the deals break competition laws should appear in September.

Once this phase of the probe is over, the Commission could send objections to the studios and companies involved explaining the alleged violations and demanding that they be changed — or it could conclude that the rules have not been broken.

Brussels is worried that certain clauses in Hollywood agreements to supply pix to firms like U.K. satcaster BSkyB and French paybox Canal Plus could be uncompetitive and lead to higher prices for the continent’s couch potatoes. The studios use the so-called “most favored nation” clauses to set minimum prices for movie contracts.

The studios involved allegedly include those owned by AOLTime Warner, Universal, Paramount, Disney, Fox, MGM and Sony’s Columbia TriStar.

The Commission said in January it was investigating the clause, which forces networks to buy films at the same price from all companies.

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