COBA launches Country of Origin report

March 2016

COBA has launched a new independent report on the value of the Country of Origin principle in supporting audience choice, media pluralism and freedom of expression, epsecially in smaller EU Member States.

A copy of the report and a summary can be found below.

The report, commissioned from independent consultants Olsberg•SPI, highlights how smaller television channels and video-on-demand (VoD) services would be at serious risk from current proposals to change the EU’s rules for audiovisual content. The report finds that nearly a third of Catch-Up VoD services “would almost certainly cease to be viable.” It also finds that many television channels in the ten smallest EU markets would be at risk, including news, documentary and children’s services.

The report examines the impact of current proposals to change the ‘Country of Origin’ principle contained in the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive. The rule enables broadcasters and VoD services to obtain a broadcasting licence in one Member State for all their channels and services in different EU countries, rather than obtain separate licences in each country. This incentivises the launch of channels and on-demand services across borders by creating economies of scale, while delivering increased choice, media pluralism and freedom of expression for EU consumers. The Directive is currently being reviewed by the European Commission amidst calls from some Member States for the principle to be changed.

In the 10 smallest EU markets (by population), 75% of the available channels are licensed in other countries under the Country of Origin principle, highlighting the greater need for economies of scale in these markets and the dramatically increased choice for audiences in countries where the domestic market might not otherwise be large enough to sustain all of these services.

The report also finds that 34% of all on-demand services established in the EU benefit from the Country of Origin principle – rising to 57% in the 10 smallest markets. It examines Catch-Up VoD services – those highly popular on-demand services provided by broadcasters for free to enable audiences to watch content they might have missed when initially broadcast – and concludes that nearly a third (299 across the EU) of such services “would almost certainly cease to be viable” without the Country of Origin principle.

Amongst other key findings:

News and documentary services are two of the largest users of the market access which the Country of Origin principle offers, representing 7% and 8% of the channels entering the 10 smallest Member States respectively. In allowing news and documentary channels to enter the market, the Country of Origin principle supports the European principles of free speech and democracy, allowing the populations of these countries a choice of multiple viewpoints and serving minority interests.

  • Children’s television is also a significant user of the Country of Origin principle – more than 10% of services in the smallest states are children’s channels, including all of the dedicated children’s services in such markets as Croatia and Malta.

 

  • The Country of Origin principle facilitates the flow of European content from one market to another, with successful programmes spreading across the continent.

 

  • VoD offers significant potential to provide EU consumers with a far greater range and choice of services, particularly in terms of serving niche interests. However, while the potential for growth is significant, many such services remain “loss leaders” or generate little income, and rely heavily on the Country of Origin principle to mitigate costs.

The report concludes:

“The Country of Origin principle is one of the European audiovisual sector’s major success stories. It performs a major service in enhancing audience choice, guaranteeing minimum standards of protection for consumers, and facilitating the free movement of content. It offers to do even more in the expanding non-linear space, as the opportunities for niche, but high cultural value content in this sector are even greater. Maintaining the principle in its current format will maximise the opportunities for European creative companies, as well as cultural value for the citizens of the EU.

“Changes would impact most negatively on the smallest Member States, where services have the lowest profit margins, or in some cases none at all. Here, the market is unlikely to have the capacity to generate national replacements for these services, leaving the remaining channels to face much less competition, and providing consumers with much less choice.”

*For the avoidance of doubt, all references to the Country of Origin principle in this report and press release relate to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive only, and no conclusions should be drawn in regards to other Directives.  References to “licensing” are intended to refer to regulatory permissions, clearances and the like under national laws, and is not intended to refer to licensing of copyright or related rights.

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