Ofcom orders negotiations on media rights

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Ofcom says public service broadcasters and producers must agree how they will treat internet and mobile distribution rights by March, or face intervention by the UK media regulator. Launching a consultation, Ofcom said broadcasters should have a 'primary rights' period after the initial transmission in which they could offer programmes for free distribution. After a subsequent 'holdback' period—Ofcom has not specified the length of either period—rights would revert to the producer.

The issue has caused acrimony between broadcasters such as Channel 4 and the independent production sector. In November Channel 4 CEO Andy Duncan threatened to lobby Ofcom for a change in the broadcaster's historic remit unless a 30-day window—much longer than the BBC's agreed seven-day catch-up period—was won. Pact, the trade body representing independent producers, accused Channel 4 of sounding like "a rapacious commercial broadcaster, looking to Hoover everything up".

Ofcom's proposals suggested that after the primary window a second holdback period would follow. In this period—which the regulator wants the industry to determine after "commercial negotiation"—broadcasters would be able to impose restrictions on producers.

Ofcom gave broadcasters and producers until March 21 to settle the issue. "Our strong preference is for the industry to resolve these issues by negotiation—without the need for intervention by Ofcom. However, if a negotiated solution is not found within a reasonable timeframe, we will have little choice but to intervene," warned the regulator.

Ofcom said the primary rights window would give public service broadcasters the right to distribute programmes "across any distribution platform; across any wholly-owned channel; for a specified duration; and for free-to-view UK distribution."

The subsequent holdback period could be shorter than the current five-year holdback that forms part of the current primary licence, said Ofcom. At the end of the holdback period the "ability to control exploitation of the programme would then revert to the producer".

In an initial statement from management, the BBC said: "We welcome Ofcom's wish to see broadcasters and producers work together to negotiate mutually acceptable arrangements for new media rights, and also Ofcom's recognition that the recently-introduced Codes of Practice are still bedding down."

Lovelace Consulting  |  11.01.2006

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