It is a popular gameshow format that has been through worldwide syndication, video game versions, and an out-of-character format change in some markets during its 14-year existence, but the American version of quiz series Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is being forced to pay over $319m (£200m) to its inventors, following a US appeal court’s decision that profit sheets were manipulated to avoid paying royalties to the rightful owners.
More specifically, the fraud was the doing of The Walt Disney Company, who while airing the show on their broadcast network ABC between 1999-2002, hid the show’s real profits from the format creators and then-owners, Celador International (with the show now in the hands of Sony Pictures Entertainment).
After Disney were denied their request for a retrial, the media giant are now required to pay the sum (consisting of the $269.2m hidden shares plus $50m in ‘interest’) to the London (England)-based company, who first licenced their flagship idea to British broadcaster ITV in 1998. Since then, ownership of the format has changed hands twice, going to Dutch company 2waytraffic in 2006, and resold onto Sony two years later.
The decision against Disney was made by a three-judge panel at the ‘9th US Circuit Court of Appeals’ in Los Angeles (USA), who claimed there was nothing wrong with the original verdict in favour of Celador two years ago, and the culmination of a case which was filed by them in 2004.
Celador’s chairman Paul Smith noted of the victory: “I am pleased that justice has been done.”
While their ownership of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has long been consigned to the history books, it appears that Celador have overcome the ‘creative accounting’ by Disney to rightfully squeeze a little more profit out of their gameshow…