LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. jury ruled on Wednesday that Walt Disney Co owes $270 million to the British company that created “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” over unpaid revenues from the show and related merchandising.
Celador Entertainment had sued Disney six years ago, but the case was only brought to trial in May before a jury in Riverside, California.
“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” debuted in Britain in 1998 and came to the United States on Disney’s ABC network the following year. It became a ratings smash for the Burbank-based Disney, with TV personality Regis Philbin as host.
Paul Smith, chairman of Celador, said the case came down to competing interpretations of the contract between his company and Disney.
“Clearly I’m delighted, this was a David against Goliath story. I think that very few small independent companies would dare to take on the giants — we did and we won,” Smith told Reuters by phone from London.
Celador had claimed it was owed 50 percent of revenue from airings of “Millionaire” in the U.S. and also from merchandising tied to the show, such as a board game.
Disney chief executive Bob Iger was among the witnesses called to testify earlier in the trial, and the company is expected to appeal.
“We believe this verdict is fundamentally wrong and will aggressively seek to have it reversed,” Disney said in a statement.
Smith said two expert witnesses that it called to the stand during the trial testified that Celador could be owed between $200 million and $360 million, but that the jury came to its own calculation of $270 million in the case.
“Who Wants to be a Millionaire” still airs in syndication in the United States, with Meredith Vieira as host.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Tim Dobbyn