Monday 24 June 2019

UK broadcasters to face levy in Ireland after EU rule change

Change in rules could benefit independent television production sector

CEO of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), Michael O’Keeffe. Photo: David Conachy
CEO of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), Michael O’Keeffe. Photo: David Conachy
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

A long-sought-after levy on British broadcasters that target Irish audiences is likely to get the go-ahead after new EU rules cleared the way for a 'financial contribution' from such stations.

The revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AMVS) was finalised in recent weeks and includes a number of changes to current rules.

Groups such as Sky and Channel 4 stream services here known as opt-outs, with ads targeting Irish audiences. These generate significant revenues here.

The Irish Government has lobbied in the EU for a clause to be introduced to allow smaller countries targeted by broadcasters from bigger states to seek a financial contribution from the broadcaster.

The CEO of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), Michael O'Keeffe, said that an article in the revised directive permitted states to demand "a financial contribution both from on-demand services and other media services if they are targeting audiences in this territory".

O'Keeffe said it would be linked to content targeting local audiences, rather than advertising - although the contribution would be linked to revenues generated in Ireland. It will also clear the way for a levy on services such as Netflix. "There could be a benefit to production companies in Ireland, definitely," said O'Keeffe.

These are new provisions and it would be up to the Government to legislate for any changes and to interpret the directive.

"How it would work in practice, I would be reluctant to speculate," said O'Keeffe. Irish channels would also be subject to the levy, but in the past RTE has indicated it would be open to such a development, as it would "create a level playing-field" with British broadcasters, which take ad revenue in this market.

In a report by consultants Mediatique, commissioned by the BAI, recently concluded that a levy on so-called opt-out channels was "desirable" - as long as the revenue was redirected by the BAI into the production of indigenous content.

Sky argues that it contributes to the Irish economy in other ways, commissioning programmes such as Moone Boy and employing significant numbers in its customer contact centre.

RTE has also proposed charging pay-TV operators for carrying RTE channels.

However, this could spark "extensive litigation", according to a report commissioned by Sky.

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