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Major US movie studios hit by European antitrust charges

Why Hollywood wants in on China

European regulators have filed formal antitrust charges against six major U.S. movie studios and broadcaster Sky UK over contracts between the companies that could violate competition laws.

Disney, NBCUniversal, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros are the six studios under investigation.

The European Commission (the executive arm of the European Union (EU)) said that contracts between Sky UK and the studios concerned may have prevented consumers in EU countries outside of the British isles from viewing the broadcaster's U.K. and Irish pay-TV service.

"If the Commission's preliminary position were to be confirmed, each of the companies would have breached EU competition rules prohibiting anti-competitive agreements," the EU said in a statement on Thursday.

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The charges focus on the use of "geo-blocking," which can be used to block access to online content, such as movies. If you are a U.K.-based Sky customer, for example, you wouldn't be able to watch Sky's Internet on-demand service in Spain if you are there on holiday.

The Commission argues that the deals between movie studios and broadcasters grants "absolute territorial exclusivity" and eliminates cross-border competition between pay-TV broadcasters.

"European consumers want to watch the pay-TV channels of their choice regardless of where they live or travel in the EU," Margrethe Vestager, EU commissioner in charge of competition policy, said in a statement.

"Our investigation shows that they cannot do this today."

The EU's move is part of a broader crackdown of anti-competitive deals in the 28-nation bloc, as it looks to create a digital single market.

Sky and the six film studios now have to reply with their defenses to the Commission.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC. Both are owned by Comcast.

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