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French sports rights: BeIN Sport wins lower court victory against Canal +

26 June 2014
In a June 18, 2014 decision, the Commercial Court of Nanterre found that French pay-tv challenger beIN Sport had not committed unfair business practices by pricing its pay TV subscription at only 11€ per month.  France's principal pay TV provider Canal + argued that beIN Sport had abused market rules by charging a price so low that it could never make profit.  Financed by the government of Qatar, beIN Sport had successfully bid for premium sports rights, and set a retail price for its specialized sports channel at an aggressively low price. Canal + argued that by accumulating massive losses, beIN Sport is "pursuing objectives that are totally foreign to those of a private economic operator," and had therefore committed unfair business practices. Canal + asked for €262 million in damages.

The Nanterre Commercial Court disagreed.  The court began by noting that beIN Sport does not occupy a dominant position, and that the provisions on abuse of dominance are therefore inapplicable.  The court noted that Canal+ must prove that beIN Sport had committed a "fault" under France's general text on negligent or unfair practices.  Noting that some of Canal+'s own retail subscription offers were priced around 10€ per month, the court found that beIN Sport's 11€ retail price was not "abnormally low compared to the market." Moreover, the court found that Canal + cannot presume to know how beIN Sport's offer might evolve in the future, particularly given the fast evolution in the broadcasting sector and the increasing global demand for premium sports events.  The court concluded that Canal + had not proven any "fault" committed by beIN Sport, and dismissed Canal +'s claims.

The commercial court is only a first level jurisdiction.  Canal + may appeal the decision before the Versailles Court of Appeals, who will hear the decide the case anew.

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