At the moment, five domestic BBC channels are distributed via cable and IPTV networks, as a result of so-called ‘overspill’ reception in the three neighbouring countries. The channels involved are BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four, CBeebies and CBBC. Distribution of these channels brings in a significant amount of money for the BBC.
Carriage of the domestic channels has grown historically, as people in the neighbouring countries were able to pick up the BBC signals from terrestrial transmitters. Under European law, it was possible for distribution platforms to carry these channels, who operate under a UK Ofcom licence.
After a ‘no-deal-Brexit’ these UK licences are no longer be valid in the European Union and distributing platforms such as Telenet in Belgium and Ziggo and KPN in The Netherlands will have to cease distribution of the domestic channels.
Spokespersons of Telenet and Ziggo said they do not want to speculate about possible consequences of a ‘no-deal-Brexit’. Both are studying the judicial consequences and will follow instructions from the media authorities, such as the Commissariaat voor de Media in The Netherlands.
The commercial channels of the BBC, such as BBC First, BBC Entertainment and BBC World News will not be affected, but the British broadcaster will need to apply for an EU licence in another country in the Union.
Talks are under way with media authorities in the Republic of Ireland and in The Netherlands, but a spokesperson for the Dutch Commissariaat voor de Media refused to comment. The BBC said it is not commenting on speculation, other than to say “We will be keeping the situation under close review to ensure that we can continue to best serve our audiences in any changed regulatory environment.”
Getting a broadcast licence in another country would require the BBC to have their head office (of the international operations), a significant part of their workforce (at least the people who are responsible for programming) and a satellite up-link in the country to qualify for a licence there. Such a licence would be a solution for the commercial channels, but would not work for the domestic channels.
Due to the unclear validity of the Ofcom licences in other European countries in the course of Brexit, Turner Broadcasting System and NBC Universal had also applied for German licences for their international channels previously licensed by Ofcom. Bavarian media authority BLM granted the licences in mid-December 2018. Sports broadcaster DAZN has applied for a licence in Berlin, while Discovery recently opted for the Netherlands.