The Single Digital Market – massive opportunity or bad for business? by Tim Hartley

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The potential to create a truly single market of 560 million customers is surely a prize worth having. The European Commission is determined to scrap regulation and turn 28 national markets into a single one for broadcasters, independent television producers and most importantly, consumers. But there are also significant risks involved. Changes to copyright law and consumer rights have the potential to create unintended consequences for the creative industries.

Jörgen Gren, the Commission’s Cabinet Member for the Digital Single Market (DSM), told the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention, “Digital transformation is a high-speed train and the DSM is there to ensure that we actually get on this train, breaking down barriers, making better choices for consumers and ensuring we have a competitive industry.”

The UK’s Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, is also a fan of the DSM. He says, “The world is increasingly digital and borderless – and single market rules need to reflect this. At the same time, we must ensure that the copyright framework continues to provide strong protection and reward creativity, which is one of Europe’s most important assets… We want users to be able to access the content that they have a right to access at home when they travel abroad in the EU.” But he added a note of caution too. “Copyright must be effectively enforced across the EU so that it can fulfil its central purpose – to encourage and reward creativity,” he said.

Independent producers are not so keen to join the high speed digital train arguing that in removing the geo-blocking of content you will effectively remove protection for intellectual property rights. John McVay from the UK’s independent producers’ trade association PACT gave this example. “Say a member is selling (a series) to a free-to-air broadcaster in Lithuania, which then puts it on a Video on Demand service for everyone on Europe to see for free. (This) will then damage the price I can get in another part of Europe.” Instead of a potential 28 sales, there would only be one. McVay believes the Commission, and the industry, would be better off fighting video piracy, cutting local red tape, improving broadband speeds and making mobile data roaming cheaper. All these he says, would really benefit rights holders and create wealth and jobs

There is also a fear that only the big boys, and not necessarily the European big boys, would benefit from the DSM. Global players could and would scale up. But what of the smaller indies? In the UK most programme budgets have deficits. These are closed by pre-selling the rights to buyers. A single market could mean an end to that and productions being made at a lower price, at lower quality. And would about programmes in lesser used languages? How attractive would they really be if you sold them on a pan European basis rather than to individual niche audiences?

The Commission is currently consulting on the DSM and aims to introduce a package of measures by the end of 2016.

Tim Hartley is Chair of RTS Wales

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