British Prime Minister Theresa May has set TV broadcasting as one of her priorities in Brexit negotiations, underlining the importance of ensuring that companies such as Discovery and Turner can continue licensing European channels out of the U.K. even after it withdraws from the European Union.
May highlighted broadcasting in a key Brexit speech Friday after a recent warning that Britain’s status as a global broadcasting hub is under threat if British-based channels do not have continued access to the E.U.
More than 750 channels based in Britain and licensed by media regulator Ofcom can currently broadcast throughout the E.U. without restriction because Britain is part of the E.U.’s single market. Discovery, Disney, the Modern Times Group, Turner, and Viacom are among the channel providers with bases in Britain. But if Britain loses access to those E.U.-wide broadcast rights as a result of Brexit, that could jeopardize £1 billion ($1.4 billion) in annual investment from international broadcasters, the commercial broadcaster industry association warned last month.
“We recognize that certain aspects of trade and services are intrinsically linked to the single market and therefore our market access in these areas will need to be different,” May said in a speech in London. “But we should only allow new barriers to be introduced where absolutely necessary. There are two areas that have never been covered in a free-trade agreement in any meaningful way before: broadcasting and…financial services.”
In mentioning broadcasting in the same breath as Britain’s trillion-dollar financial services sector, May put it firmly on the agenda in her government’s ongoing, difficult Brexit negotiations with the E.U. Much of the focus of the talks concern the movement of people, goods, and services between Britain and the 27 E.U. countries post-Brexit.
“On broadcasting, we recognize we cannot have exactly the same arrangements with the E.U. as we do now,” May said, adding that relying on precedent would not sufficiently protect channel operators. “The U.K. currently provides around 30% of the channels available in the E.U., but equally, many U.K. companies have pan-European ownership. And there are are 35 channels and on-demand services which are offered in the U.K. but licensed in the E.U.
“We should explore creative options with an open mind including mutual recognition, which would allow for continued trans-frontier broadcasting and recognize the enriching role that British broadcasters and program makers play not only in British but, more broadly, in our common European culture.”
With the prospect of extra regulation and doubts as to access to European markets and the free movement of people, goods and services, there is a fear that major media companies will relocate from the U.K. when it leaves the European Union next year. Officials in Ireland have already made it clear that they will make a play for media firms to resettle there. Amsterdam and Paris are other likely destinations for organizations looking to move from Britain.