EU SVoD quotas: How dare they?

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The news that Europe (collectively its Parliament, Council and European Commission) is contemplating ruling that OTT platforms such as Amazon and Netflix must face tough new ‘made in Europe’ 30 per cent quotas, is infuriating.

As we reported last week, and according to Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, the new rules “reflect digital progress and recognise that people now watch videos in different ways than before”.

“A fairer environment for all players in the audiovisual sector is much needed,” added Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel. “Moreover, our cultural sector will have a more prominent place in on-demand catalogues – a significant and positive change for European creators and authors.”

Nobody objects to positive inducements to film and TV producers coming to this or that region to make their programmes and movies. Nobody objects to common=sense promotion of content (French content to French audiences, German for German-language audiences, etc). That makes commercial sense to everyone, and the likes of Netflix and Amazon are keener than anyone to see their brands do well in Europe. But to force SVoD/OTT players to populate their on-demand catalogues with “at least” a 30 per cent share of European content, is foolish.

The 30 per cent rule is easy to manage and fudge: OTT producers could easily buy up hours and hours of third-rate inexpensive day-time repeats of filler programming, and thus qualify for the quota on availability terms.  But setting an investment quota is more challenging.

Instead, the European law-makers should be bending over backwards to see Netflix and Amazon make investments into high-quality programming – which they are already doing. Viewers will tolerate sub-titles or dubbing for out-of-market but high-quality content. Think of Scandinavian drama, or Spain’s current Netflix global hit Money Heist or Germany’s Dark. Good drama travels well, without forcing quotas.

Indeed, I am reminded of a French conference devoted to much the same problem about 20 years ago, when the French CSA regulator (the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) was ruling on tough cinema production quotas for Canal Plus, and it was asked whether on a French street, if a member of the public bought two English language newspapers from a street-kiosk, would he or she then be obliged to buy a French-language newspaper?  The panel laughed, and said it was a stupid question. I agree. And so are these creative quotas.

What next? Two examinations of a non-European Google source, which must be followed by a French or German source? Or if a user has two non-European Facebook friends they must choose a third friend from Euro-land? All ridiculous, I agree.

The rules are not yet in the Statute Book. They have to go through various stages before coming into law in September. We can but hope!

 


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