Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The EC Digital Single Market Strategy and the British Television Industry

Today, the European Commission published its strategy on the Digital Single Market. As was to be expected, there was both abundant support and vehement opposition to the idea.

As I scrolled through Twitter looking for reactions I came across these two items:
The European Commission absolutely believes that content available online in one EU country should be available in all. The first article, with commentary from a leading law firm, implies that it would be unfair for UK licence fee payers to subsidise access to the BBC iPlayer for other EU citizens. The second states that the BBC supports the strategy and is beginning work on how to implement it.

However, the Digital Single Market could benefit the BBC - and deliver further revenue, so that the iPlayer is, in fact, subsidised by EU viewers outside the UK. Today, in the UK, watching the iPlayer is free of advertisements. There is nothing in the EC strategy document that suggests that for other EU viewers, the BBC couldn't generate revenue from ad placements. Meanwhile, clearly UK citizens will benefit from access to content from other EU countries.

The objectives ('Pillars') of the Digital Single Market strategy are:
  1. Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe.
  2. Creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish.
  3. Maximising the growth potential of the digital economy.
Whether you support or oppose the idea, in the end, it's really a question of outlook. Do you seek opportunity when there is change? For British business, the Digital Single Market will deliver rewards to those that eagerly embrace it.

The strategy contains 16 initiatives. For the TV industry, there are two that are particularly relevant. The Audiovisual Media Services Directive underpins much of the law concerning linear broadcast and on-demand streaming. The Commission will consider how to adapt the rules to new business models for content distribution. The Satellite and Cable Directive will also be reviewed to consider the inclusion of broadcasters' online transmissions within its scope.

It seems highly likely that the Digital Single Market strategy will force the TV industry to change the way rights are bought and sold across the European Union. The implications are not trivial. For instance, the rights to sporting events, which are sold on a country-by-country basis will have to change, if viewers across Europe can access television broadcasts from anywhere within the EU. The cross-border portability of copyright-protected content services is a stated aim of the strategy, as well as to boost cross-border access to broadcasters' services in Europe.

So, if we are to have in the UK an 'in-out' referendum on EU membership in 2017, will the Digital Single Market strategy encourage the British people to stay or go?