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Premier League: EC rights review ‘reckless’

A senior executive of the English Premier League has severely criticised European Commission plans to equalise the prices and availability of digital entertainment across member countries.

Speaking at a Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar on EU copyright reform and the digital single market, Bill Bush, Executive Director, said that when the League goes around Europe and offers pan-European rights for football coverage, it has no takers. “That’s because local broadcasters, who know and are deeply embedded in cultural and market circumstances of their fans. They can form the judgement in a way that we, the Premier League cannot do about what those people want. They want different matches, they want different pre-match and different post-match … We are driven by the consumer. We are not imposing our views and our matches on them.”

He warned that a pan-European supplier would find it much harder to differentiate for local tastes and preferences, adding that the Premier League was the most successful cross-border audiovisual product in the EU.

He described the government’s initial response to the EC plans as “superficial” and criticised an EC ‘Flash Barometer’ survey, which purported to show a high-level demand for access to cross-border material. “What they actually came out with was about 2.7 per cent of the European population actually have tried to access their paid-for services. There’s nothing wrong about trying to serve that tiny segment of the population.”

“The problem is there’s nothing wrong in trying to serve that minority so long as the vast majority of very happy consumers are allowed to continue to enjoy what they get. And this is the problem. Many of the policy initiatives that are being talked about are aimed at helping a very small minority. He said that there was nothing wrong with that, but said that to “completely transform effective business models which are working for thousands for a tiny minority at the margins is a reckless thing to do.”

He was joined in his condemnation by Stan McCoy, President and Managing Director, Motion Picture Association EMEA, who criticised the EC’s “pretty weak” survey data claiming untapped demand. “The Commission’s agenda is supposed to mean that policy and law is built on a strong factual basis. In the AV sector, I think the view is widespread that the facts do not support some of the regulatory interventions that the European Commission is contemplating related to territoriality and the EU copyright system,” he stated.

“The Commission has not to this point adequately considered how a cross-border access mandate would disrupt the creative ecosystem that employs over seven million people in the core creative sectors across the EU. By the EC’s own count, there are about 3,000 online audiovisual services across the continent. One can ask how many of those services will survive if the ground rules of licensing are changed in a way that favours big players with the scale to serve all of Europe. How will European creators and producers fare in an online world with far fewer potential licensees?”

He suggested that a change in that direction would be somewhat difficult to square with Vice President Ansip’s recent comments about the power of online platforms.

“What we hear is not factual argumentation, but what I call the ‘Luddite Critique’ of the audiovisual sector for its alleged failure to embrace technological change. What this fails to grasp is the critical role in contractual freedom in ensuring that creators and producers can respond to technological change.”

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