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BBC Denies Ban on Secondary Sales to U.S. Streamers, Producers Body Vows to Fight Policy Change

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Cheyne Gateley / Variety

The BBC has denied it plans to ban the secondary sale of commissions to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ in the U.K. for five years.

But they have confirmed to Variety that the secondary sales process is under review. “The BBC is not introducing a ban, we are looking at our secondary sales policy in the U.K. – something we do on a periodic basis to ensure maximum value for licence fee payers,” a BBC spokesperson told Variety. “The SVoDs are and remain important partners to the BBC.”

Under the current terms of trade the BBC gets an exclusive licence in the U.K. for the duration of the licence period, which is usually five years, irrespective of its level of investment. However, after a program’s standard exclusive window has expired, which is most commonly 18 months from the BBC’s first use, the BBC program release policy means that the producer can ask for consent to exploit a program early via secondary television and/or SVOD in the U.K.

U.K. trade body Pact, which represents and supports independent production and distribution companies, has written to its members claiming the BBC plans to ban secondary sales to U.S. streamers for five years. In its letter to members, Pact says the ban will come into effect from July 1.

“The BBC has informed Pact that it will be changing the program release policy as of July 1, 2022,” the note reads. “The BBC will prohibit any exploitation in the U.K., during the BBC’s licence period, to specifically Netflix, Amazon and Disney+. The BBC believes audiences are choosing to watch programming via these platforms instead of going to iPlayer to watch them. Pact considers that, by preventing sales to most SVOD platforms in the U.K., the BBC will potentially delay and/or remove the producer’s ability to recoup advances or deferrals; deter distributor investment; and restrict the ability to expand audience and interest in the programme. Despite Pact’s requests, the BBC has not shared with Pact the meaningful data that supports their rationale for this prohibition.”

“The BBC does not need the consent of Pact to amend its programme release policy,” the Pact note added. “However, Pact will be taking up this damaging decision with [U.K. media regulator] Ofcom because we consider it to be anti-competitive and detrimental to licence-fee payers, who receive content whose price is subsidised by secondary sales to Netflix, Amazon and Disney+.”

Pact chief executive John McVay told Variety: “This is clearly the BBC making up a policy to damage its suppliers, itself and the functioning of an open market in the U.K. As usual they sticking their head in the sand and trying to bully their suppliers when they should be focusing commissioning the shows that U.K. audiences want.”

This story first appeared in U.K. trade publication Broadcast.