Dublin ‘losing the race’ to be post-Brexit broadcasting hub

Regulator sees inquiries rise, but big groups are choosing Germany and Netherlands

The broadcasting regulator is in talks with two UK-licensed broadcasters about obtaining new European Union licences after Brexit, but a hoped-for international "licensing hub" in Dublin looks unlikely at this stage, according to the media regulation specialist involved in one of the applications.

As many as 500 pan-European channels currently based in London use a licence from UK regulator Ofcom to broadcast to audiences in other EU markets. They will need a new licence from a EU-based regulator to keep this access after any Brexit transition period expires.

"It is unfortunate that we do seem to be losing the race to other jurisdictions," said Michael Madden, a partner at law firm Mason Hayes & Curran, who worked on the first application by a UK-licensed broadcaster last November.

While a recent "flurry of interest" may yet translate into more applications, several of the bigger broadcasting groups already appear to have identified Germany or the Netherlands as their post-Brexit bases.


"They're choosing to move to continental Europe rather than Dublin," said Mr Madden.

He attributed the decisions to the fact some of the companies already have certain operations in their chosen licensing destinations as well as possible concerns about the cost of living in Dublin.

But he added it was “difficult to say why” the State was not on track to receive a greater share of the licences in light of its favourable tax landscape and operation of a licensing regime similar to that of Ofcom.

“It’s not clear why we have not been able to attract the bigger broadcasters when we’re able to attract some of the bigger tech companies,” Mr Madden said.

Charm offensive

State inward investment agency IDA and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) began a charm offensive of London-based broadcasters a little over a year ago.

The broadcasting body confirmed last week it was in the process of negotiating five contracts with two unnamed Ofcom-licensed broadcasters who had applied for a post-Brexit licence under section 71 of the Broadcasting Act 2009.

“The BAI continues to engage with a number of UK-based broadcasters who are exploring Ireland and a number of other EU member states, as a potential licensing jurisdiction in which to base their EU broadcasting services,” a spokesman said.

“The BAI has seen an increase in the number of enquiries in recent weeks.”

Bloomberg reported in December that the BBC had discussed its EU licence requirements with both Irish and Dutch authorities. However, the UK public-service broadcaster was more recently said to be looking at either Amsterdam or Brussels.

Turner Broadcasting System Europe, which is part of AT&T's Warner Media, and Comcast-owned NBC Universal both applied for six licences in Germany, which were granted by the Bavarian media authority BLM in December, while sports broadcaster DAZN, owned by the Perform Group, was last week approved for a licence in Berlin.

US media giant Discovery signalled in January that it would apply for licences in the Netherlands, where Viacom has already obtained licences for channels aimed at French and Danish viewers.

‘Going dark’

As the political flux around Brexit continues, some broadcasters remain in wait-and-see mode.

“There’s no doubt that a number of media service providers have been holding back until they have some certainty about what is going to happen. But I think the more sophisticated broadcasters have sought to obtain their own security,” Mr Madden said.

Channels yet to secure EU licences may “go dark” in the event of a disorderly no-deal Brexit, but the risk of this occurring is understood to be low.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics