Over the past few decades, TV service providers’ market power guaranteed them a certain leadership in production.
Thanks to a steady relaxation of competition rules in the United States, the resulting vertical integration trend has seen production studios merge with TV networks and cable companies. In other markets, such as France, public authorities have continued to oppose such a trend, underscoring how vital production independent of the top networks is to sustaining diversity and creativity.
A new way of consumption
Here too the Internet is changing the status quo. We watch more and more videos. We watch them more on our own, and from increasingly global sources. Content providers and pay-TV distributors are being penalised both by their costs and their only national footprint, and are having to contend with two major threats: being cut out of the service equation and being cut off from customers. Market heavyweights like the ones found in the United States are having to weigh the pros and cons of working with a platform such as Netflix that is expanding worldwide, versus setting up their own over-the-top solution… and protecting what is still their main source of income, i.e. selling programmes to TV channels (including affiliate stations). But their dilemma is still less dire than the one facing Europe’s independent providers, who have a primarily national footprint and which are often restricted in the extent to which they can exploit the rights to the programmes they help finance.
Ecosystem and legislation
The European Commission likes the idea of having TV rights negotiated for the EU as a whole. It would provide an opportunity to introduce the idea of economies of scale in a lucrative sector, and one that has a tremendous cultural influence. Unfortunately, in its revised version, this plan, which is one of the pillars of the Digital Single Market proposal unveiled in early May, is coming up against Europe’s very disparate set of national TV ecosystems. As national laws – and especially the state of the industry – currently stand, very few companies in the EU can hope to come out winners in any negotiations for rights to all 28 European markets. Bluntly put, a very cut and dried application of such a scheme would more likely be a boon for outsiders such as Netflix, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, etc.
Despite which, our desire to be optimistic leads us to hope that the steady and inexorable development of the OTT video model will drive a change in legislation across Europe, and lead to cross-border and possibly continental deals between Europe’s TV sector players.
For the publication of the last study about "OTT Regulation" and the 15th edition of the DigiWorld Yearbook, IDATE is organizing a conference on the perspectives and key trends that will structure the digital economy for the next decade, DigiWorld Future
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Year after year, the economic and financial power of the GAFA quartet of Internet platforms continues to increase. Which brings two questions back to the fore, again and again: what trends might emerge to counter this seemingly inexorable rise? And do we need regulations that apply specifically to platforms?
A quick reminder of what economists mean by platform economics (digital or not): multi-sided markets (i.e. involving interactions between two or more parties) with reciprocal “network effects”. So the more iPhones that Apple sells, for instance, the more attractive its app store becomes to developers (and so to users), and vice-versa. In digital sectors, this characteristic is typically combined with a reduction in fixed costs (software), generating increasing returns as the platform becomes more successful.
Network effects usually go hand in hand with another property: asymmetrical prices. If Apple is starting to earn substantial income from the App Store, its business model and profits are rooted chiefly in the high price of its iPhones. With ad-funded models, one side of the market operates as a free service. As we have seen with Apple, digital platforms are a very efficient means of fostering open innovation, and capitalising on innovations from third parties. All of these aspects, which go some way to explaining why “winner takes all” when it comes to platforms, naturally need to rely on the ability to maintain the role of intermediary, and continue to become more proficient at it. Otherwise, the platform’s customers and suppliers will begin to adopt multiple homes, before eventually moving on to another, better platform. The efficiency of the leading platforms is the very reason for the current ambivalence over how much they are serving the greater good. On the one hand are concerns that a dominant OS will abuse its position while, on the other, this popularity can also mean an opportunity for developers, and can have positive repercussions for consumers.
The dichotomy needs to be resolved by taking account of the Internet’s dynamics as a whole. Windows has been through a number of anti-trust investigations but, today, this is the mobile Internet which has moved down the priority.
Worth reading on this topic is the recent IDATE report on "The future of the Internet: 2025". It takes a detailed look at the key technologies for the coming years, and especially at how development scenarios will be shaped by key variables, such as the openness of the Internet ecosystems, or the impact of restrictive privacy or security-related public policies. Here, we will add two other events that take us beyond a GAFA-centric environment. First, 2014 saw a number of Internet powerhouses emerge from the shadows of the GAFA quartet: in China (Alibaba, Weibo…) and in Asia’s leading markets in general (Rakuten, Line…).
We cannot entirely discount the possibility of these players gradually coming to compete head on with their Western peers. Second, we need to consider the position held by new players moving into vertical markets, many of which have carved out a place of sector-specific intermediary – Uber and Airbnb being two prime examples – and which have no intention of being taken over by Google or Apple or the like.
Nevertheless, faced with the realisation that GAFA continue to become increasingly powerful, the inefficiency of antitrust laws and the regulatory asymmetries compared to those imposed on other players along the chain, the idea of regulation that applies specifically to platforms is gradually coming to the fore. It may not be a good idea. Competition law, even ex post, is not necessarily ineffectual.
Plus it will be no simple matter to define the contours of the platform sector. And extending existing sector-specific laws, such as those that apply to electronic communications, to make OTT companies and telcos subject to the same principles, would take us down a path where, as businesses become more and more digitised, every economic sector would be more or less governed by electronic communications laws. Keeping in mind that the upcoming review of the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications is expected to focus on network access conditions and interconnection – and probably put more emphasis on symmetrical regulation. Should voice and SMS products not be removed from the scope of the telecom sector’s ex ante regulation, rather than adding in competing OTT products such as Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, etc.?
It nonetheless remains that in sensitive areas for digital industry players, such as those governing contract law, taxation, public safety and privacy, we can very easily identify laws that should apply across the board, such as what we find in consumer products and the retail industry. Without having to produce laws that are specific to platforms, the current juncture could provide an opportunity to merge national legal provisions with regional (EU) and global ones, and to ensure that they apply equally to all players along the value chain
For the publication of the last study about "the future Internet in 2025" and the 15th edition of the DigiWorld Yearbook, IDATE is organizing a conference on the perspectives and key trends that will structure the digital economy for the next decade, DigiWorld Future
More informations about IDATE's expertise and events :