The Belfast company who conceived the idea for worldwide quiz sensation ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ has been awarded $269m (£178m) in damages by a US court after a six-year battle over unpaid royalties.
The jury decided that Disney had cheated the show’s originators, Celador, out of their share of the profits, by creating a complex system of ‘sweetheart’ financial transactions designed to hide the profitability of the show, which ran five days a week on Disney’s ABC TV network and netted the company millions in profits.
Celador's founder is Belfast-born producer Paul Smith, now a multimillionaire. He hailed the court victory as a David versus Goliath case of Celador winning against the multinational multi-billion Disney.
"This is money to which we're entitled and Disney endeavored to avoid paying it. I'm delighted we're going to get it,” he told British paper The Guardian.
Disney’s lawyers, though, showed a clear intention to challenge the court’s decision: "We believe this verdict is fundamentally wrong and will aggressively seek to have it reversed,” legal representation for the company said.
The Belfast company claims that it, along with radio station director David Briggs and Celador comedy writers Steve Knight and Mike Whitehill created the show, but this claim has been disputed by several other individuals worldwide.
In the show, which airs in over 100 countries, contestants answer a series of increasingly difficult questions in order to win the top prize, usually one million units of the local currency. Although it started in the UK, it has expanded globally, with versions appearing around the world.
Disney said after the ruling that it honored its agreement with Celador, which included a lump sum when it bought the format. Media experts had suggested that a Celador victory could amount to a challenge to "Hollywood accounting" whereby powerful studios engage in complex financial juggling to blur the true profitability of films, music and television shows.