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Broadcast groups welcome ‘content portability’ climbdown

EuropeBroadcasting groups in Europe have welcomed a vote to water down rules on ‘content portability’, which they claim would threaten existing distribution business models and investment.

European politicians have endorsed the new version of rules regarding frontiers within the EU that was proposed by the European Parliament’s own legal affairs committee last month, despite the opposition of the European Commission.

“The European Parliament vote offers EU citizens a future full of quality TV,” said Agnieszka Horak, policy director at the Association of Commercial Television in Europe. “It is a vote in support of the amount, quality and diversity of TV and movies available to viewers.”

The lobby group represents the likes of satcasters Sky and Canal+ and broadcasters such as RTL and MTG, which were fearful that plans to allow customers to access content untethered would mean less investment in film and TV programming. Distributors, meanwhile, believed the plans threatened their territory-by-territory business model.

However, the changes are a blow to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, which would have benefited by exapanding their content offers in local markets.

MEPs yesterday endorsed the mandate for negotiations drawn up by the Legal Affairs Committee in November, with 344 votes in favour, 265 against, and 36 abstentions. Parliament will now start talks with the Council on the new rules as soon as EU governments have agreed their own negotiating position.

EC digital agenda commissioner Andrus Ansip had earlier described the compromise on content portability agreed by the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee last month “a total failure” and called again for a more comprehensive move towards making content available across national frontiers within the EU ahead of the crucial vote today.

In an interview with French financial daily Les Echos, Ansip said that streaming service providers with rights to programmes in the EU should be able to distribute the service in any country within the Union.

In June, European MPs had approved the wider-ranging rules, and were planning on bringing them into play in the first quarter of 2018.

However, in November, the European parliament’s legal affairs committee voted to water down European Commission proposals that would have enabled broadcasters to show a wide range of content across borders within the EU.

Instead, the parliament voted to limit the application of the ‘country of origin’ principle that would enable this to news and current affairs programming only.

Ansip told Les Echos that this would be “a step backwards”. He said the Commission had written to the Parliament to convince them not to endorse the “enormous mistake” promulgated by the legal affairs committee.

Ansip said that endorsement of the legal committee’s position would not be “the end of the story”. He said the Commssion would take its case for a wider opening up of the content market to the next round of informal negotiations with the parliament known as the ‘trilogues’.

Ansip told Les Echos that all non-premium content should be portable if distributors have the relevant rights to distribute it via OTT services outside their home countries. He said the current situation where rights to non-premium content had to be negotiated for 27 different countries was “too complicated”.

Content rights-holders and commercial broadcasters had strongly opposed the EC’s changes, arguing that a broader revision of the rules would reduce the value of exclusive rights and prevent producers from selling distribution rights on a country-by-country basis.

However, Ansip rejected these objections, arguing that the proposed reforms did not cover premium content. He said the EC was not planning to force broadcasters to make content available internationally if they wished to sell it to another distributor in another country.

Ansip said that European citizens resident in other countries than their own should have the right to view content from their home country. He said the alternative was often to resort to pirate services and added that global internet players like Netflix knew how to make their own content as widely available as possible.

Among those to welcome the Parliament’s rejection of moves to expand content portability beyond news and current affairs were UK Conservative MEPs.

“This report underwent detailed scrutiny by the Committee and it is quite right that our views have been upheld,” said Conservative legal affairs spokesman Sajjad Karim.

Karim said that to widen portability rules “to expensive drama and entertainment productions, as a number of MEPs want to do, could have meant some of the most popular programmes no longer got made”.

“Companies often rely on sales to other EU countries to finance their shows, while investors may only become involved in return for exclusive broadcast rights in their own country,” he said.

“Forcing broadcasters to make these programmes freely available across the EU would completely undermine that business model.”