On 7 March 2017, the Sport Intergroup of the European Parliament (EP) hosted a meeting to discuss the influence of the proposed Digital Single Market (DSM) measures on the broadcasting of sporting events. The Conference was divided into two panels: one regarding the views from sport organisations, and a second with the views from broadcasters.
The first Panel, moderated by MEP Bogdan Wenta, (EPP, POL), started with Mark Lichtenhein, Chairman of the Sports Rights Owners Coalition (SROC) and of Golf Europe, emphasising the friction between the Commission’s proposals and the territorial licensing that underpins most of the current broadcasting deals. He presented how in sport, the same product will have a different value in different countries and how territorial exclusivity of broadcasting rights allows broadcasters to develop different offerings according to market demands. Therefore, breaking down the barriers currently in place would likely not lead to better offers or better prices for the consumer. He furthermore insisted on the large amount of revenue from licensing rights that is invested back into grassroots sports.
This view was shared by the other speakers in the first panel: Marcin Animucki, Vice President of Ekstraklasa, and Tom Bullock, Head of Legal Affairs, ATP Media, made similar arguments about the necessity for territorial exclusivity of broadcasting rights, especially considering the link between licensing revenue and investments in grassroots sports. Finally, Stefan Brost, Head of the EU Office of German Bundesliga, brought up the issue of granting neighbouring rights to producers and broadcasters, so that piracy and illegal streams could be tackled more effectively. He called for the copyright Directive to ensure better protection of sports broadcasting, including a call to grant neighbouring rights to sport event’s organisers, which is already the case in several Member States.
The second panel was moderated by MEP Virginie Rozière (S&D, FRA). The public broadcasters’ representative from the EBU had cancelled her participation, leaving three private broadcasters presenting their views. Helena Burrows, Head of Policy for BT Group, emphasized the various costs involved in sports broadcasting besides the price of broadcasting rights. She also explained how nearly all the value of the rights is in live broadcasting, and that there is a high motivation for customers to find grey market or illegal access and by changing the transmission regulations, you might make it easier for customers to find these grey markets. Burrows therefore argued, similar to Stefan Brost, that piracy and intellectual property protection should be a stronger focus of legislation in this field.
Emilie Anthonis, Director of Legal and Public Affairs, Association of Commercial Television in Europe ACT, added to this that with a competition case currently under investigation by the DG COMP of the European Commission (see here) that might lead to geo-blocking clauses becoming void, and the current proposals for the Digital Single Market, the contractual freedom and copyright foundation of sports broadcasting are under threat from two directions. Ross Biggam, Vice-President Government Affairs EMEA, Discovery Communications/Eurosport, considered the proposal regarding portability a success, but saw a lack of clarity with the other proposed EU regulations. He also pointed out that there are a lot of overlapping initiatives: Geo-blocking, SatCab, DG COMP court case, CJEU Case law (Murphy 2011) that together rapidly diminish contractual freedom and the exclusivity of broadcasting rights.
In summary, all sport organisations and broadcasting organisations present were of one mind that the current proposals for a Country of Origin principle for online streams are creating a problematic situation for the sector. While it is clear they pose a danger to the current business model for broadcasting of sport events, the benefits for consumers and business aimed for by the Commission do not seem to be achievable in the special field of sports. While the portability Regulation is not controversial and welcomed by most participants of the event, panellists made clear that the other proposals needed to be changed.