Telecom Operators facilitating Audiovisual Streaming and Cultural Diversity, post Covid-19

Professor of Economics Emeritus

Telecom Paris Graduate School of Engineering CNRS Interdisciplinary Innovation Institute I3

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The pandemic of the year 2020 has dramatically affected peoples and economies worldwide. The crisis has illustrated the role played by communications networks in the resilience of our societies. It has also marked a new stage in the transformation of the global audiovisual landscape. Citizens and consumers have flocked to the increasing number of streaming services to access movies, series and documentaries, on demand or by subscription, independent or associated with national television channels and film industries. The future provision of audiovisual streaming services is a key development factor for telecommunications operators, fixed and mobile.

We have seen the development of services with very significant financial resources allowing an international footprint from the outset, both for the works offered in the catalog and for the technical and marketing means of distribution. They come either from own initiatives (Netflix, Amazon, Apple) or from major American studios (WarnerMedia, Disney).

But if we take a closer look at the world audiovisual landscape, highly diverse countries have originated great television and cinematographic cultural creations: in Europe – France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Scandinavia, Poland – in Asia – Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan – in Africa, Egypt, South Africa, or in Latin America – Brazil, Mexico. They already have gained international recognition. How are they positioned, how can they take advantage of the international expansion of communication networks supporting universally accessible Internet platforms?

Diverse countries produce works that already have an audience outside their borders, on markets which are potentially multiplied by the digital means. Production was severely affected during the pandemic and is only progressively resuming in the Summer 2020. The trend in demand, however, is so strong that the industry will soon again be short of qualified professionals. Streaming platforms present diverse audiovisual works with a unique opportunity to reach wider audiences beyond their borders. The challenge, however, is the establishment of the relationship of these diverse works with these broader audiences. The range of the catalog of national film and television productions and the marketing resources in these diverse countries limit, but does not preclude, the possibilities of a direct relationship between national services and international audiences. This raises the crucial question of the relationship of works of cultural diversity with international networks and platforms, most often of American origin.

We can already see how the platforms, anxious to attract a local clientele for their international reach, provide welcome financial resources for original cultural productions. The international openness and the range of possible agreements between network operators and producers of audiovisual works, managed with farsightedness, present a historic opportunity for the development of cultural diversity at the international level, for increased opening of world markets to varied works. Along with the cavalry of blockbusters and their sequels and prequels, diversity today is driven by a plurality of vectors. National streaming services exist or are being created. They play an important national role but are limited beyond their borders. The integrated quadruple-play offers of telecom operators, with their large markets and significant financial resources, are a powerful tool for market penetration. The platforms are a privileged vehicle for financing and international expansion, but regional initiatives, regional platforms, either extensions of regional operators or cooperative ventures established at regional scale would offer a welcome counterpart to international oligopolies.

We meet, particularly in countries of “diversity”, a tangle of regulations created over time in a defensive spirit for local works, quotas, financial aid, various obligations concerning exclusive content or events said to be “of major importance”, restrictions on mergers and acquisitions. These regulations, whose raison d’être must not be lost, must however be carefully re-examined in the light of the new realities of the digital world. Regulatory distrust of horizontal or vertical integration, such as exclusivity, which could be justified when the range of works and events offered to the audiovisual sector was limited, is much so less today. while the offer as well as the expectations of the public have widened and diversified. Achieving these promises for countries of diversity, in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, requires careful re-examination of the constraints. Less constraints on the digital economy, in particular those affecting cross- border flows of data, capital and works, would be welcome.

In the forthcoming months, telecommunications operators are in a strategic position to achieve the synergy of culturally diverse creations, major international networks, national and regional streaming services, and by so doing, support the expansion of their fixed and wireless networks.

Gérard POGOREL is Professor of Economics-Emeritus, Institut Polytechnique de Paris-Telecom Paris Graduate School of Engineering, France, and an independent international expert in telecommunications and the digital economy.  He published recently influential position papers:  The new post-COVID-19 International Trade Order, Spectrum 5.0 Re-thinking Spectrum Awards for Optimal 5G Deployment (2018)and Spectrum 5.0: Improving assignment procedures to meet economic and social policy goals (2017), and a reference book The Radio Spectrum: Managing a Strategic Resource (Wiley 2008).

He co-authored in 2014 a report to the Prime Minister of Italy assessing the investments by operators in Broadband networks in the European Digital Agenda perspective. He was an independent member of the Organo di Vigilanza of Telecom Italia Open Access (2009-2013) monitoring access to the incumbent’s network. He co-founded in 2006 the European Spectrum Management Conferences, acted as its Chair/Rapporteur, and is a frequent speaker. He is an expert with the European Commission DG Connect, and was Chair of the European Union Framework Research & Technology Development Programme Monitoring Panel, and Chair of the Monitoring Committee of the EU Information Society and Technologies Research Programme. He set up joint research programmes on spectrum policies with universities in Sweden, the UK, Italy, in America, and in Japan and Thailand. He participates in numerous international Government-level and regulation Authorities Committees and Scientific Committees on telecom and media policy and regulation.

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