Euro broadcasters win reprieve

Threat to film and TV licensing fought off

BRUSSELS — After an intense lobbying campaign by the film and TV industries, EU members of parliament have agreed to back an exemption for the industry from the proposed services directive, which could have forced broadcasters to make their programs available across the entire 25-country bloc.

Industry representatives met with members of the Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee to discuss the directive’s implications for their business. Their views will feed into the committee’s report to the parliament before MEPs vote on it next month.

Criticism of the directive centered around its lack of understanding for the way the film and broadcast industries work. Broadcasters typically buy up program rights for specific territories within the EU, and use encryption to prevent viewers outside those areas from accessing their content. At the committee meeting, industry representatives argued that a single EU-wide market simply would not work for their sector.

Currently EU broadcast markets are regulated by the Television without Frontiers directive. This introduces minimum standards across the EU, but allows member state governments to introduce additional requirements in their home markets.

Yvon Thiec, director general of Eurocinema, the Association of Cinema and TV Producers, told Variety that the industry has long been at loggerheads with the commission’s DG Internal Market over this.

Broadcasters are also worried that if the new directive is adopted, it will bring in a “country of broadcast” licensing regime, which would mean a company would need to negotiate a separate license for every country it broadcasts to. “Any move away from the country of origin rule would be disastrous for the media sector,” said Ross Biggam, director general of ACTE, the Association of Commercial Television in Europe.

New licensing rules could end the semi-automatic renewal in most member states. If commercial broadcasters can no longer work under the assumption that licenses will be renewed, this will deter longer-term investments in content and new technologies like digital television.

There are, however, no immediate concerns that the draft directive as it stands will become law. The commission has already promised a thorough revision of the original draft following a wave of criticism, with the French and German governments being especially vociferous. Even the EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie Creevey admitted to MEPs that the current draft does not have “a snowball’s chance in hell” of getting through either the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament.