The European Audiovisual market: slightly more dialogue
We are in the middle of a large project for the European Commission and just beginning to see the picture that is emerging from this work — that is a picture of Europe’s audiovisual industries seen from a pan-European perspective.
We find, as before, a series of cultural islands, with some island clusters — the Scandinavian countries act like a kind of cluster as do the countries that share the same language, France, Belgium, parts of Switzerland, for example. The UK is part of a more complex structure consisting of countries where English is either spoken or widely understood.
But exchanges of content between islands — even within the clusters — are still modest.
However our preliminary findings are interesting. To understand this huge market our project takes sample weeks from a large number of countries and codes programmes by a large number of categories. One of them is a code for content viewed in one European country but made in another. That proportion though small, seems to be growing rapidly — our final numbers will go public later in the summer, but from a small base viewing of “non-domestic European works” has almost doubled.
In future posts I will look at some other countries in more detail. My own country, the UK, stands at one pole — with a low proportion of non-domestic works in the schedules and even lower viewing levels. But as in the case of the Danish series, The Killing, the British audience is quite capable of spotting quality — and negotiating subtitles — when it is on offer.
With the new Communications Bill coming up in the UK, not looking hard at established practices would mean missing an important opportunity. Consultation is underway and I am thinking about our responses.
For example, do we have enough incentives to share content with other European countries?
If you work in an industry you look to protect its position. It’s not hard to see how executives of the major broadcasters see things. A high level of domestic production is a good thing. They can guarantee this, if in return they get certain benefits. One very important remaining benefit is their position at the top of programme guides, which is called “guide prominence”.
The badge or label for this arrangement is “public service television”, a term of striking vagueness which, like motherhood and apple pie, has managed to preserve its reputation as a “good thing”. So, as a marketing strategy, it works.
The UK industry’s most important broadcasters are pretty clear about their interests and my colleague Farid El-Husseini is an expert on electronic programme guides. He has advised many clients on their positioning strategies. So we well know well how important guide prominence is and how strongly in influences viewer choices.
But, from a public interest point of view, it may be time to ask some tough questions. Is a large volume of domestic production such a good thing? Is it making life too easy for producers, and providing a disincentive to thinking about external markets?
And there is another set of questions. What is so special about the content of the “public service” broadcasters? Some part of their output clearly deserves to be called “public service”. But a lot of their content is “entertainment” and a lot of other channels air documentaries and news similar to the output of “public service” channels. Is it time to pin down what is “public service” and what is not?
The British industry is always keen to promote the idea that it does well internationally, thus playing to the Government’s export agenda. But the perspective from the rest of Europe is rather different. Many see the UK audiovisual industry as one that underperforms.
Note: The current Study — on the provisions of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive on the Promotion of European works — is consulting stakeholders at http://www.avms2011.eu/. A public presentation and workshop of preliminary findings will take place in Brussels on September 14. If you wish to receive an invitation please register.