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COBA calls for ‘urgent clarity’ on Brexit transition

The UK’s Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) has called for “urgent clarity” on whether there will be a post-Brexit transition period that will retain the status quo for broadcasters licensed in the UK.

COBA said that international broadcasters cannot wait until March 2019 – when the UK is scheduled to leave the EU – to undertake what could be “significant changes in their operations,” as businesses need several months to put contingency plans into place.

“Without more certainty over whether the transition period will take place, we are certainly concerned that broadcasters will have to reluctantly start restructuring within the next few months, and possibly within weeks for some companies,” said COBA executive director, Adam Minns.

“The UK has a leadership position as Europe’s international broadcasting hub for good reason – no one wants to have to restructure their businesses. But if these changes have to be made, companies will be forced to start the process well in advance of the cliff edge so they have sufficient time to manage the process.”

Minns said that a status quo transition period is in the interests of both the UK and the EU as it will spare broadcasters the significant disruption of having to restructure their businesses – “at least until the long-term future relationship between the UK and the EU is clear.”

Last week Labour MP for Cardiff West, Kevin Brennan, submitted a written question asking what recent progress has been made on negotiating a deal with the EU on broadcast licensing.

Minister of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Margot James, responded on Friday by acknowledging the importance of broadcast licensing arrangements for the sector but adding that negotiations will continue in the coming months as part of broader talks with the EU.

“As set out by the Prime Minister’s Mansion House Speech, we are seeking to strike a bespoke deal with the EU which would allow for mutual recognition of cross-border broadcasting post EU Exit,” said James. “However, the final outcome will depend on exit negotiations. Our negotiating teams will continue to work at pace to ensure these are finalised.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said in her Mansion House speech in March that the UK should seek options that will allow continued ‘transfrontier broadcasting’ following Brexit but will not remain part of the EU’s Digital Single Market.

May addressed the ‘country of origin’ principle that currently allows TV companies based in the UK and licenced by regulator Ofcom to broadcast into any EU member state by saying: “The relevant directive will not apply to the UK, as we leave the EU, and relying solely on precedents will hurt consumers and businesses on both sides.”

“We should explore creative options with an open mind, including mutual recognition which would allow for continued transfrontier broadcasting – recognising the enriching role that British broadcasters and programme makers play, not only in British, but more broadly in our common European culture.”

COBA’s calls for clarity on the issue follows the UK government’s Chequers Meeting on Friday about the UK’s position for future Brexit negotiations and comes ahead of this week’s white paper that will set out details of these plans.

COBA is the Commercial Broadcasters Association, a trade body for UK multichannel broadcasters and on-demand services. It represents members including A+E, Discovery, Fox, NBCUniversal and Scripps.