Federal jury awards $269.2 million in damages in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” suit

After three days of deliberations, a federal jury in Riverside awarded the creator of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” nearly $269.2 million in damages from the once-popular prime-time game show.

The decision strikes at the heart of the “vertical integration” argument that has buttressed the wave of consolidation that has swept Hollywood over the last 20 years, in which media giants contend that it is economically advantageous to control both the production and distribution of TV programming.

Creator Celador International sued The Walt Disney Co. in 2004, claiming that it had been denied its fair share of profits from the show, which aired on the entertainment giant’s ABC network for three years beginning in the summer of 1999 and continues to appear on local TV stations. Celador argued that a series of “sweetheart deals” struck between a clutch of Disney-owned companies kept the show in the red, even as it became ABC’s first No. 1 show in more than a decade.

Celador asked the jury to award damages of up to $395 million in broadcast licensing fees, based on what one expert said would be the fair market value of the show. The U.K.-based company also claimed that it was owed $10 million in revenue from the sale of “Millionaire”-inspired games and other merchandise.

The jury arrived at a figure that was slightly less — $260 million in licensing fees and $9.2 million in money owed from the sale of merchandise. Disney issued a statement, saying it plans to challenge the award.

“We believe this verdict is fundamentally wrong and will aggressively seek to have it reversed,” Disney said in the statement.

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