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Have content rights negotiations evolved?

Will Ennett

Clearing out some old filing cabinets, TalkTalk head of content Will Ennett discovered some old contracts for content. What surprised him was, other than being on paper, how little contracts had changed in the past 10 years.

In a clear out in an office cupboard recently I came across some old contracts from 10 years ago. What struck me is, despite the fading paper and different type font, how it seemed that little had changed.

The big and key points were all listed out – the content itself; the price; the term; the territories covered and the payment terms.

 Even back in 2007 this contract had rights for deals still in use today – transactional VOD, Download to Own, subscription VOD, advertising VOD, rights to use on mobile devices, set top boxes and computer.

Now compare to 2017. I can’t reveal of any of the terms we have live today but am sure many will agree that the same fundamental tenets are there. There are some new rights out there, and it might be that cloud-based personal video recording and other rights become standard in time, but they are still not ubiquitous across platforms.

OTT players now operate worldwide, and in the EU regulators have taken a very strong look at breaking up territorial restrictions, but in the main content companies still sell their products as in 2006 – territory by territory.

In recent years, a number of companies have entered the space offering online marketplaces to buy and sell content; whilst the rationale is solid, these have not reached mainstream adoption. The game remains an old-fashioned one to one negotiation.

Meeting in person still seems relevant. Conferences such as MIPCOM continue to attract large crowds where business is conducted. In 2006 I still remember triplicate contracts being signed on stands, so some things have moved on as it’s rare to see a deal actually signed in Cannes.

And also granted, negotiations themselves can be more complex today. There is more data and analytical tools out there to negotiate rates and evaluate the effectiveness of content.  One change flowing through has been the diminishing need for tonnage, with platforms being far more focused on return on investment. Using the data, they can show the value which content being negotiated actually delivers, and so smaller packages (be it a number of channels or volume of movie output deal) are being agreed, reflecting customer needs.

I would argue that if you compare this to contracts in other parts of the TV ecosystem, the change seen in the last ten years has been very gradual in the content space.

In technology, the cloud has come in as a term and changed many of the values. Also, have some of the business models themselves changed? Have services moved to a SaaS model? Companies who provide platform services now have to contend with an increasingly complex set of devices to cover and this has had an impact on paperwork.

Previous marketing arrangements are now complicated through the explosion of digital communications and latterly social communication.

So why are content rights still so…traditional?

I believe the TV industry has not gone through the same level of major change as other media sectors and pressure on existing business models as other media sectors.

So the answer might be what lies beyond the contracts themselves. Whilst the terms of engagement may not have changed hugely, the balance of power has shifted with an increasing number of OTT players, or challenger telco operators, mobile players and growth in new markets.

However they are still acquiring largely ‘traditional’ content – long form, professionally produced video, whether packaged in channels, on demand or in physical form (DVDs/BluRay).

So it could be that until there is true disruption in the overall industry or the type of content being bought and sold, the next 10 years might see this enjoyable and fun industry moving to the same pleasingly gradual change of pace as the past 10.

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