UK Prime Minister Theresa May has called for “creative options” to address the licensing problems likely to be faced by UK-based broadcasters following the UK’s departure from the European Union.
In a detailed speech setting out her vision for the future economic partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union, May noted that broadcasting would be affected by leaving the Digital Single Market and that broadcasting was an area which had never been covered in a Free Trade Agreement in any meaningful way before. “But we have some ideas for how we can do this – and it is in all our interests to explore these,” she stated.
“On broadcasting, we recognise that we cannot have exactly the same arrangements with the EU as we do now. Currently, because of the ‘country of origin’ principle, a company based in the UK can be licenced by Ofcom and broadcast into any EU member state and vice versa,” she noted. “The relevant directive will not apply to the UK, as we leave the EU, and relying solely on precedents will hurt consumers and businesses on both sides.”
According to May, the UK’s creative hub leads to the development of products that European consumers want. “The UK currently provides around 30 per cent of the channels available in the EU. But equally, many UK companies have pan-European ownership, and there are 35 channels and on-demand services, which are offered in the UK but licensed in the EU,” she advised.
“So we should explore creative options with an open mind, including mutual recognition which would allow for continued trans-frontier broadcasting – recognising the enriching role that British broadcasters and programme makers play, not only in British – but more broadly in our common European – culture,” she suggested.
The PM’s call followed the publication of a report mid-February 2018 commissioned by UK trade body the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA), who warned that investment was at risk unless the Government secures access to EU markets once the UK leaves the EU and the potential damage to the UK television sector if access is not secured to EU markets for international broadcasters based in the UK.
The report found that international broadcasters invested £1.02 billion (€1.1bn) in 2017 in such areas as content investment, production facilities, wage costs, overheads and technology – making a major contribution to the critical mass and global competitiveness of the UK television sector.
Members of the UK House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee had earlier said that maintaining access to talent, UK production tax credits, and getting clarity around regulatory equivalence with the EU were vital to resolving concerns about Brexit.
“To address profound industry uncertainty the Government must as an urgent priority state its negotiating intentions with respect to the Country of Origin rules framework and set out its contingency plan, should the rules cease to apply after Brexit. In addition, the Government should make clear whether the audio-visual sector will form part of the formal trading negotiations with the EU,” said the Committee.
In a Statement, COBA said it welcomed the importance that the Prime Minister gave to broadcasting. “We strongly support the Prime Minister’s recognition of the enriching role that UK-based broadcasters and programme makers have in European culture, and the importance for both the UK and the EU of maintaining a relationship that continues to enable the development and delivery of transfrontier broadcasting.”
“COBA has consistently argued that broadcasters, like many other sectors, cannot wait until the cliff edge of March 2019 for clarity about the future relationship between the UK and the EU. It is now crucial for businesses and their employees in both the UK and the EU to have clarity on a transitional period as soon as possible.”
“COBA looks forward to engaging with Government on next steps.”