The BBC is considering Brussels as the place for a new EU base following Brexit to enable it to continue to broadcast across the continent, and Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel held talks on the possibility in Davos with the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall.
Belgium is usually on the shortlist of companies keen to anchor in the European Union following Brexit, but it’s further understood that the BBC is looking at the Netherlands and Ireland as possible localities for the new offshoot.
The BBC will require EU-based licences for its international channels which include BBC World, BBC Entertainment, BBC First, and BBC Earth if it wants to have them broadcast across the rest of Europe either following 29 March, if the UK leaves without an agreement, or following the transition period, should Theresa May’s agreement be ratified by parliament.
The Prime Minister has been trying to include the audiovisual industry in a free trade agreement to circumvent the problem, but her pleas have been disregarded, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, affirmed his opposition to Downing Street’s request, and he said in a letter to a concerned group that he had no plan on allowing the United Kingdom to continue to dominate the industry.
France has consistently defended the exclusion of audiovisual services from free trade agreements, and he wrote that it was an essential issue, which concerned the protection of cultural diversity, and he stated that France has made it a principal feature in every trade negotiation. It has therefore obtained, in all the free trade agreements the EU has concluded, the exclusion of audiovisual services.
As a consequence, to secure a pan-EU broadcast licence, the BBC will need to have either its head office, or a vital part of the workforce of the relevant channel, or a satellite uplink in a member state to qualify for a licence there, a request which could lead to the broadcaster moving some staff and services into the EU.
More than 500 pan-European channels use licences distributed by the British regulator Ofcom, and international media companies reportedly spend approximately £1 billion a year in the United Kingdom, making it the most significant such hub.
Yet, after Brexit, the licences are expected to be void as the United Kingdom will have left the EU’s single market, with the British online sports channel DAZN announcing it was opening a development centre in Amsterdam as it endeavoured to achieve its goal of becoming the Netflix of sports.
The channel provides live streams of Champions League football, Formula One and the ATP tennis tour in both English and German speaking countries plus Japan. Turner Broadcasting System Deutschland and NBC Universal Global Networks Deutschland have also taken measures to secure EU licences.
BBC Studios, a commercial branch of the BBC, runs a number of bespoke TV channels outside of the United Kingdom, including some that are transmitted in the European Union so they will be keeping the situation under tight review to ensure that they can continue to fully serve their audiences in any changed regulatory environment.