French streaming platform Salto calls for change of pro-US TV remotes

"Today, TV sets and remote controls are not neutral," said Salto CEO Thomas Follin, calling on both French and European regulators to act. [RozenskiP/Shutterstock]

France’s leading streaming service Salto is urging public authorities to tackle the “crazy competitive asymmetry” between major platforms and national publishers, including by changing remote controls that often have a Netflix or Amazon Prime button. EURACTIV France reports.

Smaller competitors have been questioning the fact that the largest web streaming platforms have been securing a button on remote controllers as an unfair competitive advantage.

“If there is a button for an American platform, there must be a button for a French platform,” said Thomas Follin, CEO of Salto, a streaming platform owned by France Télévisions, TF1 and M6.

“We’ve lost control over the exposure of our content, our services, all the stories we tell the French,” he told EURACTIV France, noting that his fight against the “crazy competitive asymmetry” between the big platforms and national publishers goes beyond the issue of remotes.

The will to push back the American platforms is also at the origin of a merger between the two big French channels, TF1 and M6, which would create a new audiovisual behemoth.

France debates merger that would lead to media colossus

The announcement that France’s two leading television groups, TF1 and M6, would merge to face US giants like Netflix or Amazon Prime is raising major concerns about competition and media ownership being concentrated among just a few players in the country. EURACTIV France reports.

The remote buttons at the centre of the latest upheaval in France provide entry points to specific streaming platforms. While these default settings have been compared to those of other smart devices, such as smartphones, customers are not able to change which streaming platforms are available on their TVs nor the button on the remote controller.

The setting is in the hands of TV makers who take advantage of very lucrative commercial agreements and make the most of a very competitive market.

“The economy of access and discoverability […] is important”, Bruno Patino, chairman of the board of Arte France channel, told senators on the enquiry commission on media concentration on Monday (24 January).

Salto’s Follin called on French and European regulators to act, saying that “today, TV sets and remote controls are not neutral”.

Contacted by EURACTIV, US streaming giant Netflix stressed that the button is subject to commercial negotiations and is not exclusive.

According to the French alliance of digital industries known as Afnum, “these buttons provide an advantage to the consumer and do not distract from terrestrial services”.

“There is no economic or practical sense in locating remote controls for each regional or national market,” the organisation, which represents several TV manufacturers including Samsung, told EURACTIV France.

“It is entirely possible to adapt the software interfaces of TV sets, as manufacturers are already doing,” it added, noting that “local agreements with national strategic partners have multiplied in recent years.”

French Senate to look at country's concentration of media ownership

The state of media concentration in France, how the situation evolved, and what lessons can be drawn will be analysed by a new commission of inquiry established by the French Senate on Thursday (18 November). EURACTIV France reports.

‘Flash mission’

French MPs have even gone as far as conducting a “flash mission” about “the configuration of TV remote controls and box homepages in order to preserve competition between players”.

While a mission report is expected at the end of February, Socialist MP Michèle Victory, the mission’s co-rapporteur, told EURACTIV France that she did not see any major concerns about the possible anti-competitive nature of these buttons.

She said it was necessary to anticipate the evolution, or even disappearance, of the remote control, voicing hope that the debate she was leading would continue at the European level.

The issue is already on the table in Brussels in the context of the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a regulation introducing obligations for dominant platforms to ensure the contestability of the market.

Although connected TVs were not initially in the scope of the DMA, MEPs have included it, considering it a key digital market, and are now defending this position in the interinstitutional negotiations with the European Council and Commission.

EU institutions kick off negotiations on law targeting Big Tech

EU lawmakers held their first political discussion on the proposed Digital Markets Act, a key piece of the EU’s digital legislation, on Tuesday (11 January), with a view to reaching an agreement by the end of March.

‘Cultural sovereignty’

Follin complained that France’s “cultural sovereignty” is at stake and that public authorities “are allowing a new paradigm to take hold in which all access routes are concentrated on American platforms.” This does not guarantee a diverse supply or a plurality of information, he added.

However, the chief of Salto also regretted the modest local content platforms have on offer.

Platforms must use 20% of the turnover they make in France to finance the production of European or original French-language cinematographic and audiovisual works, according to a June 2021 decree that emanated from an EU directive.

Turnover can reach up to 25% for platforms that offer films less than 12 months after they were screened in cinemas.

The total amount expected from these contributions should represent “a range of 250 to 300 million euros”, France’s Superior Audiovisual Council, now rebranded as Arcom – a merger between the national audio-visual watchdog and an anti-piracy body – said in December.

Follin said, however, that this was negligible, compared to “what is invested globally by these large platforms”. For example, Netflix was counting on $17 billion, or 15 billion euros, in investments for the year 2021.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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