The EU is preparing to act against the “disproportionate” amount of British film and television content shown in Europe in the wake of Brexit, in a blow to the UK entertainment industry and the country’s “soft power” in the Foreign.
The UK is Europe’s largest producer of film and television programming, buoyed by £ 1.4bn from international rights sales, but its dominance has been described as a threat to Europe’s “cultural diversity” in an internal document. of the EU to which The Guardian had access.
The issue is likely to add to a list of hot spots in the EU-UK relationship since the country left the single market and the customs union, including disputes over the sale of British sausages in Northern Ireland and the issuance of licenses in fishing waters. leading to Royal Navy patrol boats being deployed to Jersey earlier this year.
On this occasion, the aim of Brussels is to continue defining British programs and films as “European works”.
Under the EU audiovisual media services directive, the majority of airtime must be devoted to such European content on terrestrial television and must account for at least 30% of the number of titles on video-on-demand platforms (VOD) like Netflix and Amazon.
Countries like France have gone further, setting a 60% quota for European works in VOD and demanding that 15% of the platforms’ billing go to the production of European audiovisual and cinematographic works.
According to an EU document presented to diplomats on June 8, the post-Brexit inclusion of UK content in such quotas is believed to have resulted in what has been described as a “disproportionate” amount of British programming on European television.
“The high availability of UK content on video on demand services, as well as the privileges granted by qualification as European works, can result in a disproportionate presence of UK content with the European video on demand share and hamper a greater variety of European works (even from smaller countries or less widely spoken languages) ”, reads a document distributed among the member states. “Therefore, disproportionality may affect the fulfillment of the promotion objectives of European works and cultural diversity that the audiovisual media services directive points out.”
The European Commission is tasked with launching an impact study on the risk to the EU’s “cultural diversity” of British programming, which diplomatic sources said would be a first step towards action to limit the privileges granted to UK content. United.
Industry figures said that a move to define UK content as something other than European, leading to a loss of market share, would particularly affect British drama, as the pre-sale of international rights to shows like Downton Abbey and The Crown has often been the basis on which they have been able to go into production.
Adam Minns, Executive Director of the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA), said: “Selling international intellectual property rights to British programs has become a crucial part of financing production in certain genres, such as drama.
“Losing access to a substantial part of the EU markets would be a serious blow to the UK television industry, across the entire value chain, from producers to broadcasters to creatives.”
The sale of international rights to European channels and VOD platforms earned the UK television industry £ 490 million in sales in 2019-20, making it the second largest market for the UK behind USA
According to the leaked EU document, entitled “The disproportionate presence of UK content in the European share of VOD and the effects on the circulation and promotion of various European works”, it is deemed necessary for the bloc to reassess the “presence of content of the United Kingdom in the aftermath of Brexit ”.
“The concerns are related to the impact that Brexit will have on the audiovisual production sector in the European Union, as, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory, the United Kingdom provides half of the presence of European VOD television content in Europe. and UK works are the most actively promoted on VOD, while the lowest proportion of promotional sports in the EU27 is also found in the UK, ”the document says.
He adds: “Although the UK is now a third country in the European Union, its audiovisual content still qualifies as ‘European works’ according to the definition provided by the AVMS directive, as the definition continues to refer to the European convention on cross-border television. of the Council of Europe, of which the United Kingdom continues to be a part “.
It was long feared in the industry that the EU would try to undermine the UK’s dominance in the audiovisual market once the country left the bloc. The government had been repeatedly warned of the risk to the British screen industry.
Industry sources said they had believed it was a “when not if” question, and the government appeared to have little influence over Brussels on the issue.
EU sources suggested that the initiative would likely be carried further when France takes over the successive presidency of the union in January, with the backing of Spain, Greece, Italy and Austria, among others. There is a mid-term review of the AVMS directive that is due within three years, and sources suggested that this could be the point where the changes could take effect.
A UK government spokesperson said: ‘The UK is proud to host a world-class television and film industry that entertains viewers around the world and which the government has supported throughout the pandemic, including through the Movie and TV reboot show.
“The status of European works continues to apply to audiovisual works originating in the United Kingdom, as the United Kingdom is a party to the European Convention on Cross-Border Television (ECTT) of the Council of Europe.”