The EU would be harming itself by seeking to reduce the “disproportionate” amount of British content on European television but the government is powerless to stop it, the UK’s Brexit minister, Lord Frost, has said.
The Guardian revealed on Monday that the privileges that come with UK film and TV content being defined as “European” are under threat, with the risk of a major loss of the international sales used to finance some of Britain’s most popular programmes.
Under the EU’s audiovisual media services directive, a majority of airtime must be given to such European content on terrestrial television and it must make up at least 30% of the number of titles on video on demand (VOD) platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.
But an internal EU paper, obtained by the Guardian, revealed a concern among the 27 member states that allowing UK content to be counted as part of a protected quota of European content was a hindrance to the promotion of the union’s “cultural diversity”.
Speaking to MPs on the foreign affairs select committee, David Frost said he was “aware of discussions” among the 27 member states although he understood them to be at an early stage.
He claimed that any attempt by Brussels to take UK content out the protected quotas would be to the detriment of European TV viewers.
Frost said: “In terms of EU policy there’s a long way to go yet on this. We’re not in favour of that, we’re in favour of, you know, free circulation of audio visual goods as of other goods.
“But obviously if they choose to sort of harm themselves and their viewers by excluding some categories of UK content we can’t stop them, but we believe that I’m sure good sense will prevail and we won’t be in that position.”
Asked whether his UK negotiating team had failed the British film and television industry by not securing agreements to protect its access to the European market, Frost said he had come up against vehement resistance from the French government.
He said: “It’s a traditional position of France, which takes some shaking that audio visual arrangements are not parts of free trade agreements, and although we started off with more expansive positions, I don’t think there was ever any realistic chance coming out of this negotiation in a different place.”
The UK is Europe’s biggest producer of film and TV programming, buoyed up by the sale of rights to the international market to the value of £1.4bn a year. According to an EU document tabled with diplomats on 8 June, in the “aftermath of Brexit” it is believed the inclusion of UK content in such quotas has led to what has been described as a “disproportionate” amount of British programming on European television.
Adam Minns, the executive director of the Commercial Broadcasters Association, has warned that the loss of market share that would come with a change in the rules would be a “serious blow for the UK TV sector, right across the value chain from producers to broadcasters to creatives”.
Should the EU seek to revise the audiovisual media services directive, the changes would most likely come into force in three years’ time.