Digital trade at its best: Win-win opportunities for UK and European film and television

Businesses and government alike are keen to spot trends pointing to future growth and new trading opportunities.  In the audiovisual sector, as in other sectors, assessing trends requires a global field of vision.

This challenge is particularly pertinent in context of Brexit, which will require the UK to establish a new approach to international trade policy, a process that will present a multitude of challenges and opportunities. The remaining 27 Member States will meanwhile have to demonstrate that the EU can still drive economic growth and innovation.  Together they will, if wisdom prevails, forge a mutually beneficial trade relationship.

I recently gave a presentation to the Westminster Media Forum in London about the challenges and opportunities presented by one clear candidate for future growth; the audio-visual sector. While my presentation focused mainly on the specific situation in the UK, the same principles for taking advantage of this global growth sector are relevant across the region.

The film and television industries are worth $97 billion to Europe as a whole and in the UK specifically they generate revenues over £4bn a year, representing the second largest such market in the world.

These industries also represent digital trade at its best. Film and TV today is an end-to-end digital business featuring digital production, editing, and distribution; digital 3-D and IMAX formats; digital cinema; and, Blu-ray DVD technology, not to mention widespread availability of high quality content for consumers across multiple digital platforms. Furthermore, they are the catalyst for rapid development in the visual effects, post production and animation sectors, driving innovation, cutting edge technology and high skilled jobs.  Rapid-growth in global digital markets in high-quality, premium content presents an opportunity for those who, like the UK, specialize in producing and exporting such content.

But the process of devising trade strategies that take advantage of the opportunities these markets offer is not without challenges. There are several types of barriers that can hamper the ability to export AV content. These could include:

  • access barriers such as difficulty getting licensed or regulations that create an unlevel playing field;
  • contractual freedom barriers that hamper the ability of rights holders to offer broadcasters and other licensees the deals they both find most valuable, including real territorial exclusivity (notably present in current EU proposals); and
  • intellectual property barriers such as poor copyright enforcement, the introduction of overly vague copyright exceptions, and the failure to properly implement key international treaties, all of which can undermine the value of rights in the sector.

The scale of the opportunity is clear for those that are able to put the right building blocks in place. The UK and Europe have a shared opportunity, as leading content creators and exporters, to build on existing comparative advantages. However, this should not be viewed as a zero sum game. On the contrary, the challenge is for Europe and the UK to develop a win-win relationship with each other in the audiovisual sector, and then to develop a win-win relationship with the world.

The basic requirements for such a relationship are:

  • access to skilled labor and sustained investment in skills and technology to support this talent pool;
  • continuation of the mutually beneficial two-way trade in audio-visual services between the UK and Europe;
  • mobility of film and television workers to collaborate across borders;
  • incentives and for production and support for international co-production in the region and more broadly; and
  • preservation of copyright incentives – including territorially exclusive arrangements that are the ‘coin of the realm’ for our sector – and robust copyright protection and enforcement frameworks at home and in our export markets.

To seize the opportunities that lie ahead, it will be important to keep sight of shared interests, including a shared passion for creativity, and a shared opportunity to export great film and television to the world.