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COBA responds to May’s Brexit vision

The UK’s Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) has called for “urgent clarity” as concerns grow about whether TV operators based in the country need to relocate as a result of Brexit.

Adam Minns

COBA executive director Adam Minns has issued a statement about Brexit following the UK government’s meeting on Friday that saw prime minister Theresa May outline her vision for a ‘soft Brexit’ and subsequently face a revolt from some senior cabinet members.

The organisation said it will reserve judgement on the government’s long-term plan for broadcasting until the expected White Paper is published this week, however, it welcomed comments by culture minister Margot James.

James said the government understands “the importance of broadcast licensing arrangements for the sector” and is “seeking to strike a bespoke deal with the EU which would allow for mutual recognition of cross-border broadcasting post-EU exit.”

However, COBA, which issued a warning over Brexit last month, has said the urgent issue now for broadcasters is whether a transition period will happen once the UK leaves.

International broadcasters invest more than £1bn (US$1.3bn) a year in the UK in the form of content, jobs, overheads and infrastructure, while the UK is Europe’s leading international broadcasting centre, home to 650 international channels.

“Like many sectors, international broadcasting cannot wait until the March 2019 ‘cliff edge’ to undertake any restructuring that may be necessary as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Businesses need several months to put contingency plans into place, as this may involve significant changes to their operations,” said Minns.

“Without more certainty over whether the transition period will take place, we are certainly concerned that broadcasters will have to reluctantly start restructuring within the next few months, and possibly within weeks for some companies.

“The UK has a leadership position as Europe’s international broadcasting hub for good reason – no one wants to have to restructure their businesses. But if these changes have to be made, companies will be forced to start the process well in advance of the cliff edge so they have sufficient time to manage the process.”

“A status quo transition period is in the interests of both the UK and the EU. It would enable broadcasters to continue investing in local content and new services in the UK and across Europe without the significant disruption of having to restructure their businesses, at least until the long-term future relationship between the UK and the EU is clear.”

Following the resignation of foreign secretary Boris Johnson and David Davis, secretary of state for exiting the European Union, May has reshuffled her cabinet, resulting in a new secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.

Jeremy Wright has replaced Matt Hancock, who has become secretary of state for health and social care after a brief but busy time as culture secretary since taking over from Karen Bradley in January.

Hancock’s time in the role has been defined by the ongoing battle between US media giants Comcast and 21st Century Fox to take over European satcaster Sky, which has come under scrutiny from the UK government.

Comcast’s £22.1bn approach for the entirety of Sky has already been given the all-clear by Hancock and the cable giant has until the end of the week to outline its formal bid.

The UK government is expected to give its seal of approval to 21st Century Fox’s takeover of European pay TV operator Sky this week, suggesting a bidding war with rival Comcast is now on the cards.

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