back to article Probe of Hollywood-Euro Pay TV contracts: What happens next?

By now the dust has settled on Monday’s statement by the European Commission that it will investigate the licensing agreements between the major US Hollywood studios and their European broadcasting counterparts, targeting the exclusive nature in any given European country. But what is the likely outcome? This is the kind of …

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Honestly I'm less annoyed about Sky's first-to-market clutch on movies than I am about the absurd fragmentation of the European vs. the US streaming catalogues. I guess Dr. Who is the perennial case-in-point: only seasons 1-5 available to stream from any service in the UK (Netflix, Amazon, etc.), but all series available in the States? How is that even possible?

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"available in the States? How is that even possible?"

Maybe the BBC want to keep the more recent episodes to show as repeats a few times -- possibly saving more in not having to create new content than they'll gain by licensing to streaming services?

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How big is your pie?

> open up pay TV competition for the benefit of consumers

The problem with competition is the size of the market.

Typically when companies compete, there are a few things that can happen: prices (and by implication: margins) can drop, products and/or efficiency can improve, and more "stuff" gets consumed.

So far as TV viewership is concerned, in the UK it seems to be pretty much at saturation: all the people who want to watch as much TV as they can, or are physically able to, already do so. Making more content available won't do a great deal to get more eyeballs staring at the goggle-box for more hours on more days.

Since the total size of the potential market has already been reached, all that increased competition (or "choice" if you're a politician) will do is to make each company's slice of the market smaller.

How could TV be made cheaper? Well, in the UK the licence tax fee is independent on the amount of competition. It might be possible for a new player to put pressure on Sky to reduce their subscriptions, but more channels would increase the number of advertising minutes available, which would drive down rates and therefore lower advertising income - so no benefit there (not even to advertisers, who'd have to pay for more ads to reach the same number of millions of viewers).

As for improving the product - yeah, that happens! [ errr, no it doesn't ] When TV companies have less income, they make cheaper programmes: reality, game shows, chat shows and cut the expensive "quality" programming and the niche/specialised programmes that attract few viewers. They also show more repeats. However, with some channels on Sky already showing only three or four hours of original (i.e. never seen before on UK TV) content per week, there's not much scope for that, either.

So what would more TV competition look like? Just more repeats, more advertisements, more imported programmes. more celebs and reality and the same number of viewers grumbling that "there's never anything to watch". Oh, and the BBC - still with its protected £ billions, making programmes without the encumbrance of advertising (or much in the way of transparency or oversight - who decides if they screen yet more celebs & dancing, anyway?) and squashing the prospect of the independents making money by competing with them given their enormous (unearned) income. It would be interesting to see how that sits with pan-european TV competition.

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Re: How big is your pie?

" who decides if they screen yet more celebs & dancing, anyway?"

The fact that people will complain the BBC is too highbrow if it doesn't cater for the ITV crowd. These arguments aren't new.

Personally I'd be more than happy if that money went into BBC Four but I can't see it happening politically. I don't really understand how anyone can really believe given the trajectory on "quality" programming that making the BBC a commercial entity is really going to improve that situation is that's what people care about. Because I don't think they care about it.

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FAIL

Re: How big is your pie?

You are entirely missing the point: the European Commission is not interested in individual markets. It merely wants to facilitate the single market so that, for example, a broadcaster in the Netherlands with the rights to Game of Thrones can make that content available in other countries.

Your polemic against the BBC is pretty inaccurate. Firstly, publicly funded services can be effective market participants. Secondly, advertising is not the only other form of fund-raising open to broadcasters. Thirdly, repeats are as much a response to shifting viewing habits (driven in turn by technological change) as anything else: more channels due to changes in distribution; 24 hour TV driven by user demand. "More of the same" is always a risk in such an environment. Fourthly, it is precisely the lack of effective competition in the pay-TV market which is causing quality to suffer: rivals have to spend inordinate amounts to compete to buy rights for sports and have little left for original programming. Fifthly, the BBC has at least as much oversight as the commercial broadcasters. This could be probably improved but not by giving the politicians more control. The challenge is very much to get the BBC to reverse most of the Greg-Dyke nonsense but it remains popular because it does, by and large, produce reasonable quality programmes that people want. Sixthly, you seem to forget that Channel 4 is probably even better protected by royal charter but also an example of a different approach to competition.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How big is your pie?

"You are entirely missing the point: the European Commission is not interested in individual markets. It merely wants to facilitate the single market so that, for example, a broadcaster in the Netherlands with the rights to Game of Thrones can make that content available in other countries."

Surely this is yet another case where the EU can decide whether or not it is a single market or not? If it IS, then any content from anywhere in the EU should be available to anyone in the EU, regardless of territory / country / language, and the Murphy case would be completely irrelevant - if the EU is a single market, Ms Murphy is completely free to buy from a Greek provider if she wishes to do that. If there are exclusivities based on territory / country / language within the EU, then it is NOT a single market.

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Re: How big is your pie?

@AC IIRC, and as the article hints, the ECJ favoured exactly what you suggest for the rights of the football itself but allowed a loophole re. title music or graphics or something like that, which can be more tightly controlled by the owner.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How big is your pie?

Quote

The fact that people will complain the BBC is too highbrow if it doesn't cater for the ITV crowd. These arguments aren't new.

Very true but you don't see ITV trying to raise its game so to speak. Instead we get lots of stuff aimed at Sun Readers. Once upon a time ITV have decent stuff but frankly they have gone so far downmarket in seatch of the great advertising pound that they are in danger of going below Sun readers and appealing to the Star picture viewers.

If the BBC of today is considered to be too highbrow then I'd have to see it compared with the BBC of 30-40 years ago.

The other mainstream channels (Channel 4 & Five) aren't much better. At least C4 got rid of Big Brother. Shame that C5 picked it up. Mind you there is still that abomination called 'I'm a 'z' list Celeb, get me out of here'. That is long past it's sell by date but ITV seem to see someting in A&D that I can't then I'm just an old fogey.

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Re: How big is your pie?

>Very true but you don't see ITV trying to raise its game so to speak.

There was a time when they did - lots of high-value dramas, built to challenge the Beeb on quality (trouble now is, that people often remember things like 'Jewel in the Crown' as BBC productions, rather than Granada).

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Should be sold in the same way as patents

There are obviously terms and conditions that anyone wishing to host the content would have to meet, but as far as possible content should be licenced in a fair, open, and non discriminatory way.

It is clearly anticompetitive that Netflix, Amazon or Sky should be able to obtain exclusive rights to content and essentially shut their competition (especially the smaller ones) out.

But further to this I think the EU should ensure that if someone buys (as opposed to rent / stream) content through one provider that they should be able to transfer it to another provider, or even a vendor neutral DRM. It should be their content regardless of where they bought it to play as they see fit.

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Actually, I wouldn't mind being able to watch canal+ in the UK (though it's very expensive in France) and it's really annoying that Lovefilm doesn't work in France.

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Anonymous Coward

Well, the last time the Eurocrats tried to promote competition

In the TV market, was when they decided sport needed more competition. Consumers ended up with two providers to pay, instead of just Sky! I fear a fleecing is in progress!

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Sky are a pain.

I haven't forgiven them for yanking Lost and Madmen away from free terrestrial channels mid-series.

My revenge ?

Neighbouring landlord has taken up Sky offer of cheap/free dish and cabling and removed conventional roof aerial wiring. I take great pleasure in handing out found Sky boxes to his tenants so that they can use them as Freesat units and not have to pay bloody Sky anything.

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Crunchyroll...

I patiently await the day Crunchyroll is actually willing to sell me content rather than giving a lame apology due to licencing because I happen to live in another part of Europe...

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BBC....

As long as the BBC remains exclusive to Blighty, then I don't care what the Germans / Spanish / French do. If by some odd twist the UK is forced to give up the exclusivity of the Beeb, I hope the UK Gov' has the balls to reject the EU's advice.

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Re: BBC....

No one would force the BBC to operate in other countries. It would just be that if another operator had the content, they coud offer it for sale in the UK. Of course, you'd still have to pay for license fee as well.

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Pint

language and ...

Well part of the problem the EU has , is all the content anyone wants is in English. (Before I get loads of flack for being a language bigot , I am fluent in at least one european language, and reasonable in another.).

I was in Vienna a few years ago and browsing DVD's in a store and noticed they were selling Naked Lunch both in German, and a version in English. German 8 Euros , English 18 Euros.

You see, not happy with carving up the "so called market" by where you live, they really want to carve it up by "how ever much we can charge and get away with it".

The problem with the BBC license fee is that when you look at the competition you realise just how *cheap* it is. The reason why corporations cannot bring themselves to ever support a publicly funded Media outlet ("cause"), is that to many people paying the same price for the same thing is tantamount to communism....

Beer, because that was one good thing I got in Wein that cost the same in any language...

P.

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