New study on media concentration in Europe

The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe, has just published a new IRIS Special report, which looks at the many different ways in which companies such as broadcasters can obtain or maintain powerful positions in the audiovisual market.

The Strasbourg-based Observatory examines the ways in which legislators, courts and regulators can prevent powerful communication tools, including the newer platforms offered by digital technology, from being used to shape opinions and mindsets or simply to dominate markets by a too small group of individuals or companies.

This new IRIS Special report, Converged Markets – Converged Power? – Regulation and Case Law, offers a pan-European analysis of measures aimed at limiting market power in the audiovisual sector before exploring the legal frameworks of eleven European countries.

A third chapter provides economic background concerning audience market shares for television and video online. The concluding chapter ties together the common threads in state regulation of media power and explores some of the more unusual approaches to this issue.

In the first chapter, Ralf Capito explains the EU approach to limiting market concentration, largely via competition law. He examines the notions of abuse of a dominant position and explains how EU legislation assesses dominance, particularly in the case of mergers. This chapter also explains the challenges of market definition in order to deal with the various services provided in the audiovisual sector to ensure appropriate regulation.

In this context, the chapter distinguishes between the so-called audiovisual media services (AVMS) such as TV broadcasting and enabling services, platform operators and converged services (“all (digital) media services that allow real-time and/or delayed delivery of AVMS to multiple networks”) and distribution network operators. The themes of must-carry rules and net neutrality, also key to the prevention of media concentration, are explored at the end of this first chapter.

Moving on to look at national legislation, the second chapter of this report analyses the legal frameworks of eleven different European countries. For each of the countries analysed, the chapter looks at the specificities of public service media with regards to regulatory instruments, the regulation of the actual access to the various markets by potential service providers, media-specific rules aimed at reducing media concentration, the various provisions of competition law which complement these media-specific rules and, lastly, must-offer provisions.

Sixteen different authors, one of whom is the Observatory’s own legal analyst, Francisco Cabrera, offer an in-depth exploration of measures aimed at reducing media concentration in the eleven countries examined.

The third chapter, authored by the Observatory’s André Lange, provides an analysis of television audience market shares as one possible measure of media concentration. Taking the combined audience share of the four main media groups in each country analysed, and using data provided by Eurodata TV World-wide, the report shows that Sweden shows the greatest level of media concentration with these four groups holding 91,9% of the market. If one considers the audience market shares of the three largest groups in Europe – ProSiebenSat1 Media AG (DE), RTL Group (DE) and TF1 (FR), then it is Hungary showing the greatest level of media concentration with the RTL group holding almost 30% of the daily audience.

Susanne Nikoltchev, Head of the Observatory’s Department for Legal Information, ties up the threads with a concluding chapter which asks: “Is media-specific anti-concentration regulation still an important tool?” Nikoltchev concludes the affirmative, “in particular as an ex ante regulatory instrument to regulate in favour of pluralistic and diverse media content.” She points to a “very specific set of rules which has developed around public service broadcasting” supplementing these anti-concentration measures.

The aim of this set of rules being to “ensure the availability of a certain kind of content to consumers and […] to let an innovative and open media sector flourish.” Nikoltchev surmises that a similar set of rules might be in development in order to deal with the net neutrality issue and she concludes that “these developments […] might prove to be forward-looking tools to complement media-specific and general rules addressing market power and possibly to unite them one day in an overarching and converged framework for regulating media power.”