TIM sticks by footy deal as competition watchdog launches investigation

Italy’s competition watchdog has launched an investigation into TIM’s exclusive deal with rights holder DAZN to stream top-flight football content, but the Italian telco is sticking to its story – that the deal is good for competition in the pay TV market.

The Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) said it will look into certain clauses in the DAZN/TIM distribution deal, both from a commercial point of view and technical; on that last point, the competition body seems to be investigating whether TIM has made improvements to its own network to ensure smooth viewing that would not be available to customers watching its TIM Vision service via another ISP.

The watchdog has stepped in having been petitioned to do so by pay TV operator Sky Italia, which is incensed that TIM was able to broker an exclusive deal with DAZN to bring a significant number of Serie A football matches for the period 2021-2014 to its TIM Vision television service. DAZN acquired those TV rights, ahead of Sky, in March. “DAZN…will continue to distribute matches via the internet and has chosen TIM as its strategic partner,” TIM said, at the time. “This will make TIM the reference telecom and Pay TV operator offering DAZN content in Italy.”

It’s understandable that the rest of the market is unhappy, and that the AGCM has decided to follow up.

“The Authority believes that the agreement between TIM and DAZN could lead to significant distortions of competition,” it said, in a statement, highlighting that the deal comes at a time when viewing habits are migrating towards the Internet.

The restrictive nature of the deal “could, therefore, undermine the competitive development in the pay-TV market and related markets,” such as retail and wholesale fixed broadband and the mobile space, it said.

TIM does not agree.

“We are confident that discussions with the Authority will clarify all aspects of the proceedings and are certain that the agreement with DAZN aims to develop competition in the pay-TV market and the viewing of streaming content, as well as to accelerate the country’s digitisation process for the benefit of all customers and telecommunications operators,” it said.

That’s a pretty generic statement, that the telco can’t really qualify. However, it also addressed AGCM’s main points in more detail.

“[TIM’s] commercial offers do not include any obligation to subscribe to connectivity services to access pay-TV content,” as AGCOM has recognised, it said. “In fact, customers of other operators can freely access DAZN’s content offers, including through the TimVision set top box.”

It also dismissed the issue of the “alleged unavailability of technical solutions,” insisting that all operators have the right technology available to them provided they are willing to invest in it. The operator claims AGCM recently sent a guidance document to DAZN and other operators calling on them to implement “all the technical solutions aimed at ensuring efficient transmission on the internet.” TIM has done this, it said.

As Italy’s Punto Informatico explains, the technical solutions repeatedly referenced by the AGCM refer to improvements TIM would have made to its own network in order to avoid congestion during the streaming of matches. Essentially, the question is whether TIM is exploiting the crossover between its network prowess as an incumbent telco and its exclusive content rights.

That’s for the watchdog to decide, which it will have to do in pretty short order, given that TIM started publicising its various price plans for the coming season last week. In the meantime, it has reserved the right to implement precautionary measures should it deem – having cross-examined TIM and DAZN – that their “conduct is causing serious and irreparable damage to competition.”

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