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Competition in the media sector

Media have a key economic role in the EU. Media is also vital for the development of information and communication technologies and to develop and preserve culture, information, education and democracy.

The European Commission supports media policies that empower European citizens to enjoy seamless and interactive experiences, letting them access any content from anywhere in Europe. According to the Digital Single Market Strategy, attractive content and services need to be made available in an interoperable and borderless internet environment.

The Commission's competition department works to ensure that the competition rules are respected in the media sector.

Actions of the Commission in the fields of antitrust, merger and State aid control.


A number of media-related antitrust cases have already been pursued by the Commission and ruled on by the Court of Justice. National competition authorities and courts also apply EU antitrust rules in cooperation with the Commission.

Competition in content markets

Access to content is crucial to enable competition in media markets. This applies to infrastructure, platforms and devices (satellite, cable and terrestrial networks, TV sets, PCs, mobile devices). Availability of content on a multi-country basis is also vital for the single market to develop and deliver the benefits of the digital era

Competition restrictions hindering the development of digital book publishing initiatives should also be prevented. In the eBooks case the Commission investigated Apple and some major international e-book publishers, since it suspected that these companies may have contrived to limit retail price competition for e-books in the European Economic Area, in breach of EU antitrust rules.

In December 2012, the Commission adopted a commitment decision that rendered legally binding commitments offered by Apple and four international e-book publishers: Simon & Schuster (CBS Corp.), Harper Collins (News Corp.), Hachette Livre (Lagardère Publishing) and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck (owner of inter alia Macmillan). In July 2013, the Commission adopted a similar decision with regard to Penguin, which offered substantially the same commitments as the other four publishers.

Collective management and licensing practices for content should not obstruct the development of cross-border services on the internet or restrict right-holders' / users' choice.

  • CISAC case – banned exclusivity and membership restrictions imposed by collecting societies, as well as concerted territorial restrictions. In April 2013, the General Court partially annulled and partially upheld the Commission's decision. The General Court examined for the first time and upheld the Commission's treatment of cultural diversity and protection of minority repertoires arguments raised by the collecting societies.
  • IFPI case – ensured that collecting societies can compete in providing pan-European simulcasting licenses
  • Online commerce roundtable – discussed how to take full advantage of opportunities to distribute content online

Switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasting

The switch from analogue to digital results in freeing substantial spectrum resources, which will become available to deploy new services and technologies (the "digital dividend"). To ensure that the digital dividend leads to new entry and broader viewer choice, EU law requires that such dividend is allocated subject to specific conditions (e.g. open, transparent and non-discriminatory procedures). The Commission took action against Member States who favoured incumbents when assigning the rights to use the 'digital dividend' spectrum, notably against France, Bulgaria and Italy. Following the Commission's intervention, France assigned frequencies to new operators in 2012, Bulgaria took legislative steps to address the breaches and Italy took steps in order to assign new digital frequencies (multiplexes) in 2013.



As the media sector evolves rapidly, firms tend to develop new types of mergers and cooperation. Digital content is increasingly available and can be distributed across various platforms (digital terrestrial, cable, satellite, IPTV, Internet, mobile networks).

One of the Commission's main concerns is that mergers in the media sector do not significantly impede competition and that access to key elements (whether content, technology or interconnection) is not affected.

The Commission analyses markets, taking into consideration the technical and regulatory developments in the EU countries.

Recent cases include:

  • Clearance of Universal Music Group acquisition of EMI's recorded music, subject to remedies - In September 2012, the Commission approved the proposed acquisition of EMI's recorded music business by Universal Music Group. The approval was conditional on the divestment of EMI's Parlophone label and numerous other music assets on a worldwide level (IP/12/999).
  • Clearance of Liberty Global’s acquisition of controlling stake in De Vijver Media, subject to remedies – In February 2015, following an in-depth investigation, the Commission cleared Liberty Global's acquisition of a stake in the Belgian media company De Vijver Media NV (“De Vijver”). The approval was conditional on De Vijver licensing its channels – Vier, Vijf and any other similar channel it may launch – to TV distributors in Belgium under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms (IP/15/4481).
  • Clearance of the joint venture for cross-border licensing of online music between PRSfM, STIM and GEMA, subject to remedies – In June 2015, following an in-depth investigation, the Commission approved the proposed creation of a joint venture for multi-territorial online music licensing and copyright administration services by three music collecting societies: PRS for Music Limited ("PRSfM") of the UK, Föreningen Svenska Tonsättares Internationella Musikbyrå u.p.a. ("STIM") of Sweden and Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte ("GEMA") of Germany. The approval was conditional upon the joint venture implementing commitments that will enable other players to compete with the joint venture in the provision of copyright administration services (IP/15/5204).
  • Clearance of Twenty-First Century Fox' acquisition of Sky – In April 2017 the Commission approved unconditionally the proposed acquisition of Sky, the leading pay-TV operator in several EU Member States, by Twenty-First Century Fox, a US-based diversified global media company (IP/17/902).


State aid

State aid in the media sector supports public service broadcasting and films, a recognition that government intervention may be necessary to fund services of general economic interest, to achieve economic objectives of growth and innovation, social cohesion, cultural diversity and to satisfy society's democratic, social and cultural needs. The positive effects of state aid must be weighed against the risk of crowding out private initiatives and ultimately of hindering innovation.

Public service broadcasting

To minimise the impact of state subsidies on competition, the Commission requires EU countries to define the public-service obligations broadcasters must meet and limit state aid to the actual costs of these obligations. A public service broadcaster may carry out commercial activities, provided they are financed commercially and follow normal market behaviour.

The Broadcasting Communication requires ex ante control of significant new media services launched by public service broadcasters and which should receive State aid (balancing the market impact of such new services with their public value); addresses the issue of pay services in the public service remit; and requires effective control of overcompensation and supervision of the public service mission on the national level, while offering financial flexibility for public service broadcasters.

The Communication is designed to safeguard healthy competition in the rapidly evolving media environment. Public service broadcasters can take advantage of digital technology and Internet-based services to offer high quality services on all platforms, provided they do not distort competition unduly at the expense of other media operators. European citizens and stakeholders will be able to give their views in public consultations before any new services are put on the market by public service broadcasters.

See the list of cases handled by the Commission.

The legal framework and the Commission’s policy towards public service broadcasting is further explained in:

Further reading:

A European approach to tackle online disinformation

On 26 April 2018 the Commission adopted a Communication on tackling online disinformation: a European Approach (COM(2018) 236 final).

Given the complexity of the matter and the fast pace of developments in the digital environment, the Commission considered a comprehensive response of the Union and the Member States.

One of the guiding principles of action in the fight against disinformation is to promote diversity of information, in order to enable citizens to make informed decisions based on critical thinking, through support to high quality journalism, media literacy, and the rebalancing of the relation between information creators and distributors.

Quality news media – including public media – and journalism play an important role in providing high quality and diverse information and to uncover, counterbalance, and dilute disinformation.

Accordingly, there is a need to invest in high quality journalism, reinforce trust in the key societal and democratic role of quality journalism, and encourage quality news media to explore innovative forms of journalism.

In that context, State aid may contribute, among other initiatives described in the Communication, to the support to quality journalism, media and, in particular, public service media as an essential element of a democratic society.

In the Communication, the Commission encourages Member States to consider horizontal aid schemes to address market failures that hamper the sustainability of quality journalism, as well as support measures for specific activities, such as training for journalists, service and product innovation.

Existing rules clarify the conditions under which public support may be granted by Member States. In addition, the Commission has adopted various decisions on State aid measures of Member States that have the objective to support the press, with a particular focus on quality journalism. Examples are State aid decisions regarding aid to the French and Spanish news agencies AFP and EFE, where the Commission acknowledges the importance of independent journalism and reporting for the reliability of information sources. Other decisions regarding, for example, Spain, Sweden and Finland, concern compatible aid schemes that help maintaining quality journalism in rural areas or for minority languages.

To enhance the transparency and predictability of State aid enforcement in this area, the Commission publishes this online repository in the area of State aid to the press and media. It contains references to the applicable State aid rules and relevant decisions adopted in this domain. Moreover, regularly updated information on aid granted by Member States will be accessible on the transparency register (State aid transparency public search page).

1. Existing relevant rules:
  • Articles 106(2) and 107(3)c of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;
  • Regarding public service broadcasting, specific detailed guidelines are in place (Communication from the Commission on the application of State aid rules to public service broadcasting, OJ C 257 of 27 October 2009, p.1);
  • Depending on the type of support envisaged, the guidelines for R&D&I aid (Communication from the Commission — Framework for State aid for research and development and innovation, OJ C 198 of 27 June 2014, p. 1) may also be relevant;
  • Likewise, the General Block Exemption Regulation (Commission Regulation (EU) No 651/2014 of 17 June 2014 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the internal market in application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty, OJ L 187 of 26 June 2014, p. 1, as amended by Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/1084 of 14 June 2017, OJ L 156 of 20.6.2017, p. 1) may be relevant with regard to training aid.

2. State aid decisions concerning aid to the press and media
Film support

Commission policy regarding state aid for film and audiovisual works is laid out in its 2013 Cinema Communication. The Communication allows film-support schemes meeting the following state aid assessment criteria to benefit from the cultural derogation to the general ban on state aid in the EU Treaty:

  • the aid must be legal under the EU Treaty (eg, it must not affect the internal market);
  • territorial spending obligations are acceptable if they do not link more than 160% of the aid amount and in any case not more than 80% of the production budget to expenditure in the granting Member State;
  • the aid must be directed towards a cultural product. Each Member State must ensure that the content of the aided production is cultural according to verifiable national criteria (in compliance with the application of the subsidiarity principle);
  • the aid intensity must in principle be limited to 50% of the production budget, except in the case of difficult and low budget films
  • the aid must not provide supplements for specific filmmaking activities (eg. post-production).

The Cinema Communication refers to aid for film production, which represents about 80% of the film support provided by EU member countries (an estimated €1.5 billion per year), for developing film projects, for promoting and distributing films and for cinemas.

See a selection of decisions which illustrate how the Commission applies its policy towards film support.

Further reading:

More about the Commission’s audiovisual policy:


Read about media and sports on the Sports section.

Related links
European Audiovisual Observatory