Ofcom could force increase in live Premier League games – report

UK media regulator Ofcom is likely to force the Premier League to make more games from the top division of English football available for live broadcast, according to the Telegraph.

The newspaper said a meeting between Ofcom and pay-television providers held last week saw the regulator state it will announce a decision on its investigation of the Premier League rights auction process by the end of March.

Citing multiple sources close to the meeting, the Telegraph said officials indicated they were likely to intervene to increase the number of matches that can be broadcast live, following a complaint last year from cable operator Virgin Media.

Ofcom is said to have given the impression it does not intend to make all Premier League matches available. Saturday 3pm kickoffs are set to remain free from live broadcast, although it is understood their number could be reduced in a bid to schedule more games at other times of the week. The Telegraph added that Virgin Media urged the regulator to also consider forcing the Premier League to sell some rights on a non-exclusive basis.

The Premier League last month outlined the parameters of its next rights cycle by revealing that 168 matches per season would be offered on a live basis over three seasons, from 2016-17 to 2018-19, up from 154 games in the current cycle.

The rights will be split into five packages of 28 matches and two packages of 14 matches, with one of the packages including up to 10 live games on Friday nights. No single buyer will be allowed to acquire more than 126 matches. The auction will take place early next year, with the rights expected to be awarded in February.

Ofcom declined to discuss the details of the investigation. A spokesman said: “The investigation is on-going and we have not yet reached any initial conclusions.” Virgin Media declined to comment.

Responding to the launch of the Ofcom investigation in November, the Premier League had said: “The Premier League currently sells its audio-visual rights in a way that is compatible with UK and EU competition law and will continue to do so. We will be able to demonstrate that as part of this process.”