European Broadcasting Union 17th Sports Assembly


30 September

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Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here with you today and to see that you have brought the Sports Assembly to Brussels, linking it to the first European Week of Sport. I would like to thank you for helping us to promote the Week.

Broadcasting plays an essential role in the world of sport. It brings sport competitions into people's homes and,  increasingly, onto their mobile devices. And broadcasting provides the major source of financing for sport organisations.

I have made promoting grassroots sport a priority for my mandate as Commissioner. Grassroots sport is vital. Not only because it provides the basis for professional sport. But also because it brings major benefits to society. It keeps people active and healthy, it is a fun way to spend free time, and it helps to build friendships and communities.

That is why it is very important to me that we ensure grassroots sport receives an appropriate level of financing. Broadcasting of professional sport and premium sport content has a role to play here, since it helps to fund grassroots sport through solidarity mechanisms. These mechanisms need to be well designed and effective.

Public broadcasters, when pursuing their mission, make a significant contribution to Europe's economy and at the same time to its cultural diversity. Europe's public broadcasters air a significant amount of domestic and European content. But not only that, they also invest billions in creating and acquiring this kind of content every year.

When it comes to how we regulate the audio-visual sector, I believe we need to strike the right balance between public interest and market needs. One aspect of this balance is the European "dual" system for audio-visual broadcasting. In my view it is an efficient model – in which public service broadcasters and commercial broadcasters exist side by side and complement each other.

We will need to make sure that we find the same balance in the digital sphere. Building a true Digital Single Market is one of the political priorities of this European Commission. We want to create the conditions that will allow the European digital sector to flourish. And we want to see both businesses and customers gain from this.

My priority is to make sure that the cultural and creative sectors – including the audio-visual media industry – thrive in the digital space. In particular, I want public service broadcasters to be able to effectively fulfil their duties such as promoting culture in this environment as well.

The Digital Market Strategy has immense potential to boost Europe's cultural sector and strengthen its cultural diversity. But it will only do so if we get four central elements right:  the rules on copyright, portability, geoblocking and audio-visual services.

First, copyright. Copyright protection underpins the creation, production and dissemination of cultural content and thus safeguards Europe's cultural diversity and sustainability of investment in the cultural and creative sectors. And what applies offline also needs to apply online. We need modern copyright rules that are fit for the digital age and ensure that those who create creative content, including in the audio-visual media sector, are remunerated fairly in the digital value chain.

What we need is a clear, balanced and adequately enforced copyright regime. A regime which gives consumers better access to cultural and sports content – while fuelling the virtuous cycle of rewarding creators and those who invest in cultural production. This is a red line for me. And I will work with my colleagues in the Commission to ensure we find the right balance here.

Second, I believe that ensuring portability of legally acquired content is part of the solution. Consumers should no longer be faced with a black screen when they try to access content they have paid for only because they have travelled from one Member State to another. At a time when people increasingly use mobile devices to enjoy content, we need to move on and face new realities. Smart rules on portability will greatly improve consumers' experience of using content – which benefits rights holders as well by making their creations more attractive.

Third, we need to address the issue of geoblocking. Geoblocking is a tool that can be used for legitimate purposes, for example to protect copyrighted content. But it can also be abused – for instance when unfair restrictions are created in the online world.

Just last week, the Commission launched a public consultation on geoblocking in the e-commerce sector to get comprehensive feedback on practices there. The protection of copyrighted content is not part of this; it will be addressed in separate initiatives. But let me be clear: We will need to differentiate between justified and unjustified geoblocking in any proposal we come forward with.

Our central aim is to improve access to online content across borders. This has to be balanced against the legitimate and justified benefits that come from the status quo. We will need to answer a central question: When is geoblocking justified and when is it not justified?

I believe that by definition geoblocking for protected cultural and sports content can be considered justified under the approach the Commission set out when it adopted its strategy for building the Digital Single Market in May.

Sport broadcasting rights are mostly sold to national markets. And there is a strong logic to this: Most national tournaments are of interest primarily to national audiences. Similarly, international sport competitions attract interest that tends to be national in most cases.

This is reflected in the coverage as well as the pricing. A national or very local product also allows for advertising opportunities that are best suited for that local audience. It has an impact on the revenues of the national sport federations as well.

At the same time, the constraints on cross-border access prevent a part of the potential audience from enjoying the content. I believe that we need to open up more opportunities for access across borders. This will bring benefits all round: to consumers, but also to sport organisations, broadcasters or sponsors who will be able to create more revenue. What we need to ensure, however, is that we preserve the financing model of audio-visual content.

Finally, we are also working to modernise the EU rules for audio-visual media services. The Audio-visual Media Services Directive is an important instrument which sets the requirements for the availability and prominence of European audio-visual works as well as for the investment in them.

The Commission has been gathering views on potential avenues for reform – in fact, the consultation period ends today.  We will have to see how we take this forward. But for me one thing is certain: We need to enable the audio-visual sector to keep playing its role in supporting European content and cultural diversity in an environment that has been profoundly changed by the digital shift. And we will need to create a level-playing field between traditional broadcasters and other providers who offer similar services, such as streaming.

I am sure you will have lively discussions about these subjects today, and I wish you a successful event.

Thank you