Being a sports fan who cannot bear to be parted from the England cricket team and the football, my subscription with Sky is a necessary, if expensive, evil. Likewise, I have a subscription to watch NFL American Football games. While I may be a fully paid up member of the web-generation, it is amazing to be able to watch TV on my lap-top.
But there are two things which are vexing. Firstly, my Sky subscription is useless when I am outside the UK. Secondly, because Sky has also bought rights to NFL games, I find that a few games (usually the ones most worth watching) are ‘blacked out’ when I try to watch in the UK.
Not only is this unfair – after all, I have paid for both subscriptions – but it also highlights one of the reasons why selling broadcast rights on a country- by- country basis often screws over the consumer. You pay through the nose to watch the best and most popular shows only to find that, once you’re outside one Member State, you either have to pay again or do without a service you paid for.
It looks as though the ‘Premier League’ ruling by the ECJ marked a line in the sand. The Commission communication on e-commerce indicated that the era of country-by-country deals may be drawing to a close. Collective rights-sales and pan-European licensing are on he cards. It can’t come a moment too soon for me. After all, if a digital single market is to exist in the EU then it is logical that we have pan-European or multi-territory broadcasting rights. This should apply for all commercial television. The irony is that the likes of the BBC, ZDF and RTE tend to be available to cable-tv viewers across the EU, despite the fact that it is more difficult to justify state-backed channels being available.
So there is every reason to expect that watching our favourite programmes should become easier within the next couple of years. But although some saw the ‘Premier League’ ruling – which decided that it is perfectly legal for individuals to buy decoder cards and TV subscriptions from other countries to undercut the subscription fees for Sky Sports – I don’t expect the value of rights, which is then reflected in the size of the subscription fees, to dramatically decline.
The big money-spinning broadcasting rights deals are for football, of which the English Premier League is the biggest single collective rights sale, with BskyB currently paying £5bn for a three year deal. The deals for the rights to show Barcelona and Real Madrid matches, which are sold by the clubs themselves, are similarly large. Instead, I would expect the Premier League, and all other rights-holders to copyright more elements which they could then require their TV partners to air. For example, UEFA uses a copy-righted anthem in the broadcasts of its Champion’s League matches, and the scope for introducing new copy-rights is extremely wide.
So those of us who baulk at the prospect of paying 40 or 50 euros per month in subscriptions shouldn’t hold their breath in assuming that collective rights will cut costs. Nonetheless, if EU legislation cannot make TV cheaper to watch, it should certainly make it easier. And that in itself would be a big step forward.