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In what could prove a major blow to the British film and television industry, the European Union is looking into proposals to exclude U.K. programming from EU content quotas on television and online platforms.
Under the EU’s audiovisual media services directive, European content must make up a majority of airtime on terrestrial television channels and account for at least 30 percent of titles on video-on-demand platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. Individual EU countries have even stricter quotas. France, for example, requires fully 60 percent of VOD titles to be of European origin and that platforms invest at least 15 percent of their turnover in European production.
Currently, despite leaving the European Union via Brexit, British films and TV series still qualify as “European works” under EU law, meaning they count towards those content quotas.
But an EU document from June 8 tabled with diplomats takes aim at this classification, suggesting British programming accounts for a “disproportionate” amount of content on European television and may threaten “cultural diversity” in the EU.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, is set to launch an impact study on British programming, a move that could be the first step in re-classifying U.K. content.
Britain is Europe’s biggest producer of film and TV programming and sales into Europe account for a significant proportion of the local industry’s revenue. The sale of international rights to European channels and VOD platforms earned the UK television industry $677 million (£490 million) in revenue in 2019-2020, making the EU the number two market for British content, just behind the U.S..
EU sales are often a key component of financing for big-budget UK films and series such as The Crown and Downton Abbey. Having British series classified as European also makes them more appealing for streaming services, which can use UK shows to help make up EU quotas.
Post-Brexit, the U.K. is considered a “third country” under EU rules and no longer granted special trade privileges but UK films and TV still qualify as “European works” under the definition in the AVMS directive. The directive comes up for review in three years’ time and observers suggest the current move is setting the groundwork to kick Britain out of the AVMS.
The British film and television industry, which as bloc had been staunchly pro-remain in the EU, repeatedly warned the U.K. government that Brexit could severely damage the local industry.
The Guardian first reported news of the leaked EU document.
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