Viacom, Fremantle Executives Discuss Brexit at Cambridge TV Convention

Viacom's David Lynn

Cecile Frot-Coutaz, David Lynn and others, including Fox CEO James Murdoch, chime in on the outlook for the U.K. TV industry post-Brexit.

Brexit and its impact on the U.K. TV industry was a recurring topic of debate at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge convention this week.

During a panel titled "All The World's a Stage," Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia Group, and David Lynn, president and CEO of Viacom International Media Networks, discussed the fallout from last June's referendum in favor of Britain's exit from the European Union.

"The biggest impact from Brexit for us is the ad market," Lynn said. "We definitely have seen a softening of the ad market since the result last June. ... That’s the biggest factor in terms of how it affects us with a large advertising business in the U.K." He said that while the ad softness may not all be due to Brexit, "I certainly believe that it was an important element."

Brexit also raises questions about the future of London as a hub for international networks as the EU's country of origin principle creates a common area for TV networks. Once Britain leaves the EU, international network operators may relocate their headquarters to the continent to continue to be able to tap into the benefits of that principle, experts have said.

"We will manage that," Lynn said. "We have operations all over Europe. To the extent that we need to operate out of the main EU base, we can do that. We will adjust to that."

The Viacom executive said Brexit will also have an impact on companies' talent relationships. "For an international company, it's key that we get the best talent, but also that we get international talent," he said. "Whatever comes in place in terms of work permits system etc., it needs to be a workable system."

Frot-Coutaz said that as a France-born executive in London working for a German parent company, RTL Group owner Bertelsmann, June 2016 was "not a happy month."

She said the company's concerns are around movement of people, taxation and "the cost of doing business in the U.K., to make sure that this economy here remains creative and connected." She said: "We're part of a European group. … Certainly, there are lots of question marks."

Said Frot-Coutaz: "This is a global world in any way, shape and form, and as creative companies we benefit enormously from being part of the global economy."

21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch referenced Brexit in his Thursday appearance at the Cambridge convention, calling for the U.K. to approve the conglomerate's proposed deal for full control of pay TV giant Sky, saying it would be proof that the U.K. was "truly open for business post-Brexit."

U.K. Culture Secretary Karen Bradley had signaled Thursday that she was confident about the outlook for the U.K. TV industry despite Brexit. "I am here to encourage and occasionally cajole you. And I have immense faith in you," she told attendees of the Cambridge convention. "British TV is one of our great jewels — and it can shine even more brightly."