The London offices of 21st Century Fox’s Fox Networks Group were raided by European Commission investigators Tuesday as part of a wider probe into possible anti-competitive practices regarding the distribution of sports rights in the region.
“The European Commission can confirm that on 10 April 2018 its officials carried out unannounced inspections in several [European Union] member states at the premises of companies active in the distribution of media rights and related rights pertaining to various sports events and/or their broadcasting,” the commission said in a statement.
A spokesman for Fox Networks Group said in a statement to Variety that the company was “cooperating fully with the EC inspection.” The investigation was first reported by Britain’s Daily Telegraph, which said documents and computer records had been seized.
Fox Networks Group currently comprises Fox Television Group, which includes Fox Broadcasting and 20th Century Fox Television; Fox Sports Media Group; Fox Cable Networks, which includes FX Networks and National Geographic Partners; and Fox Networks Group Europe, Asia and Latin America. The Fox Network Group’s office that was raided — in Hammersmith in West London — is separate from both the corporate headquarters of 21st Century Fox in London and from those of Sky, the satellite pay-TV operator in which it is the major shareholder.
The European Commission is empowered to investigate potential violations of EU anti-monopoly and competition regulations. The commission’s statement stressed that its inspections of various companies’ premises did not indicate guilt.
“The commission has concerns that the companies involved may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices,” the EC said, adding: “Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.”
The commission has already given the green light to Fox’s attempted $15 billion takeover of Sky. That deal is currently tied up in scrutiny by Britain’s competition watchdog, and not at the European level.
Fox has offered concessions to British regulators to ease the takeover through. The media conglomerate last week proposed for Disney — which is trying to buy Fox’s 20th Century Fox and other assets — to acquire Sky News if that would assuage concerns over the news channel’s independence from Fox as well as worries that Rupert Murdoch and his family would have too much control of the British media.
Under 21CF’s pending deal with Disney, Fox Networks Group would split apart: The “new” Fox is to encompass Fox Broadcasting, Fox News, Fox Sports 1 and 2, Big Ten Network and Fox Deportes, while the rest will go to Disney.