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Broadcasters migrating licences to EU as Brexit takes its toll

International broadcasters are abandoning the UK as the impact of Brexit makes itself felt, according to research by IHS Markit.

According to IHS Markit analysts Tim Westcott and Aled Evans, the number of TV services licensed by UK regulator Ofcom declined to 879 in December, down from 1,039 in 2018, with the likes of Discovery, ViacomCBS and Sony Pictures already moving licences to EU states.

According to the research, a further 319 channels may need to relocate in order to continue enjoying unfettered access to the EU market.

The number of Discovery-owned channel licensed in the UK declined from 107 in December 2018 to only 54 at the end of last year, with 50 of the 53 that have moved now being based in the Netherlands.

Sony Pictures’ UK-licensed TV channels free from 41 to 19 over the same period, with 15 former UK channels now being licensed in Spain. ViacomCBS moved seven of its 31 UK-licensed channels to the Czech Republic, including channels that target the Irish market.

Eleven Sports has moved eight channels from the UK to Luxembourg, while sports streamer DAZN has moved four previously UK-licensed linear channels to Berlin-Brandenburg state in Germany.

Broadcasters that have yet to make significant changes to their UK licensed channels include AETN, AMC Networks, BBC Studios, Fox, Networks, NBCUniversal, Nordic Entertainment, Sky, Turner, Walt Disney and Viasat World.

Nordic Entertainment has meanwhile told I H S Markit’s analysts that it would “most likely” see to relocate channels to Sweden.

While licences have moved, so far the impact on staff and facilities has been limited, with many broadcasters maintaining their presence in the UK, according to the research. The legal picture for channels remaining in the UK that target other EU states remains obscure until trading arrangements between the post-Brexit UK and the EU are agreed – or not.

If negotiations fail to produce a deal, I H S Markit points out that the UK will remain part of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, which predates the Audiovisual Media Service Directive and allows freedom of reception between signatories. However, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden are not part of the ECTT and the service does not cover on-demand services.

In the longer, term, says I H S Markit, it is likely that there will be a gradual shift of a business estimated to be worth US$1.36 billion in 2017 away from the UK.

The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Spain have secured most of the departing licences thus far. In 2018 the UK held 52% of licences of channels targeting the EU, compared with the Czech Republic’s 9% and Luxembourg’s 8%. At the end of last year, the UK held 37%, compared with the Netherlands’ 22% and Spain’s 11%.