Legal Affairs MEPs approve watered down broadcasting rules

MEPs approved rules that will force broadcasters to make online on-demand news programmes available across the EU. But they removed proposals from the European Commission to also open up access to movies and TV shows. [Chris Brown/Flickr]

MEPs in the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee have approved a watered down version of an EU proposal that will regulate how much content broadcasters must show online.

Broadcasters will be forced to show news content in their online catch-up offers across the bloc, under draft rules that MEPs approved on Tuesday (21 November). Fourteen MEPs approved the bill, nine rejected it and one abstained from the vote.

But the Parliament rejected a broader approach that would expand access to online movies and TV shows, which the European Commission sketched out in its original proposal last year.

Tiemo Wölken, the German socialist MEP who authored the Parliament’s version of the bill, said he was disappointed that other political groups rejected measures that would have required broadcasters to make shows and movies available online for consumers in any EU member state.

“We really missed a chance today to give consumers more access to content from other member states. So they will still face this message saying, ‘This content is not available in your country,’” Wölken told EURACTIV.com.

He said that industry groups “lobbied massively” to ask MEPs to exclude films and TV shows from the kinds of content that must be made available online. Viewers already have access to more online news broadcasts from other member states, meaning the new rules will change little, he argued.

Wölken said that lobbyists also pushed for the rules to exclude digital streaming services like Zattoo.

“This is clearly a success for lobbying industries,” he added.

Leaked bill forces broadcasters to put TV online across EU

Broadcasters may be forced to show content across the EU, not just in the country where they’re based, under draft legislation put forward in the face of strident opposition from major companies across Europe.

Changes to the broadcasting law will apply the so-called country of origin principle to online catch-up offers that show content on-demand. Under current EU law, national rules apply only in the country where a broadcast signal is sent.

The Commission’s overhaul of the broadcasting law, known as the satellite and cable directive, sparked upset among broadcasters who argued that getting rid of territorial restrictions would cut into their business and diminish profits from license sales in other EU countries.

After the Parliament vote on Tuesday, a Commission spokeswoman said, “We regret the suggested narrowing of the scope of the application of the country of origin principle to news and current affairs programmes. This is disappointing for consumers as it will not allow for the scope of access to online services of broadcasters that we hoped for.”

The updated directive must be approved in three-way negotiations between the Parliament, member states and the Commission before it can go into effect. Those talks have not started yet.

Broadcasters were relieved by MEPs’ changes to the Commission proposal.

Agnieszka Horak, the director of policy and legal affairs at the Association of Commercial Television in Europe, an association representing broadcasters including Sky, Canal+ and Itv, said the Parliament’s version of the bill is “definitely a step in the right direction”.

“Commercial broadcasters have long believed that that the wrong legislation on this issue would reduce the amount, quality and diversity of TV content,” Horak added.

Sports leagues also lobbied to have on-demand and live broadcasts, known as simulcasts, excluded from the legislation.

“If you have the country of origin principle also apply to simulcasts, that means a licensee can buy a license in one country and it can be viewed in all of Europe. Territorial exclusivity is the basis of tailored offerings in all 28 member states and of different prices as well,” said Mathieu Moreuil, head of European public policy for the English Premier League, describing the Commission’s original proposal.

Moreuil said that the Premier League could be forced to sell rights to its football broadcasts at higher rates if the EU law requires them to be available across the bloc.

Consumer organisations backed the Commission’s original proposal last year as a move towards giving Europeans the same access to movies and TV shows regardless of where in the bloc live.

But they slammed the Parliament’s version of the bill.

Monique Goyens, director of the European Consumer Organisation, called the JURI text a “backward move”.

“The situation for consumers living or studying abroad or travelling who are currently not able to watch the content of their choice will not improve. It is especially frustrating for consumers who belong to a linguistic minority and would like to watch series or films in their own language,” Goyens said.

EU negotiators have already approved a separate Commission proposal that will give consumers access to online subscriptions like Netflix when they travel temporarily to other member states.

Commercial broadcasters prepare for another fight in Brussels

The pay TV sector is bracing itself for another fight in Brussels when the European Commission proposes changes to EU copyright law in September.