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General overview of sector

The audiovisual sector lies at the intersection of numerous European policies (culture, information society, telecommunications, trade, intellectual property, etc.), which makes it a highly disparate industry. Moreover, national governments remain firmly attached to their sovereignty over audiovisual policy. The EU’s role is therefore to lay down rules and guidelines in areas of common interest.

The audiovisual arena in the European Union has been expanding steadily for several years. New broadcasters and broadcasting stations are entering the European market every year, leading to growing audience fragmentation. As concerns jobs, the audiovisual sector directly employs more than a million people in the European Union. The television sector alone employed some 300,000 workers in 2006.

The issues arising in the audiovisual sector lie at the intersection between matters cultural (cultural diversity, media pluralism, etc.), technological (internet, multimedia, mobile television, digital terrestrial television etc.), economic (product marketing, collective management of royalties), of intellectual property (online music), of competition (gradual liberalisation of audiovisual industries, telecoms package), and even of law (protection of minors). The audiovisual sector is thus linked at one and the same time to policies on competition, trade, industry, telecommunications, the information society, culture and public services, making it an extremely complex and fragmented field. This fragmentation is reflected in the social dialogue participants, both on the side of the "workers" (federations of actors/performers, journalists, musicians, workers in the film industry) and on that of the employers (broadcasters, film producers, commercial television stations etc.). Furthermore, the audiovisual sector’s Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee (SSDC) is distinct from the Live Performance SSDC. Given the fragmentation of those involved, and of the issues at stake, one might be forgiven for wondering about the relevance, in the 21st century, of the very concept of "audiovisual", bringing together as it does such a diverse range of situations and issues.

Politically, national governments remain firmly attached to their sovereignty over audiovisual policy. The EU's role is to lay down rules and guidelines in areas of common interest (opening of borders, competition).

Economically, the role of this sector is an important one. 98% of European households have a television. According to the European Audiovisual Observatory, approximately one billion visits are made to EU cinemas every year. But there is fierce international competition: in 2007 the market share of European films was only 28.8%, compared with more than 62% for American films. This competition is, however, contained by the "cultural exception" obtained in international trade negotiations, authorising the EU to establish transmission quotas. From the 1980s onwards, the EU has lagged behind the United States in its marketing of audiovisual products. The "Television without frontiers" directive has, since 1989, made an effort to catch up, with tangible but mixed results. Since then, other initiatives have been adopted, inter alia on convergence between the telecommunications, media and information technology sectors; on audiovisual policy in the digital era; and on promotion of the European audiovisual industry through the Media programme. Reflecting rapid technological developments, the old "Television without frontiers" directive was revamped in 2007 as the "Audiovisual media services without frontiers" directive, where a distinction is made between linear services, or television, including webcasting, streaming and netcasting on the one hand, and non-linear services such as video on demand, on the other.

Among other recent issues affecting the sector are:


  • the framework for state financing of public service broadcasting, and the whole issue of the future of public services in the information society (competition);
  • the extension of the period of validity of intellectual property rights applying to performers involved in recording pieces of music (from 50 to 95 years) (internal market and services);
  • development of digital terrestrial television (DTT) services, and development and marketing of competitive services for mobile television (via adoption of the “Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld” (DVB-H) standard) (information society);
  • increased competition in collective management of royalties levied on music broadcast via internet, cable and satellite (competition) and an end to geographical restrictions on collecting societies' collecting rights.


It should be pointed out that this fragmentation of competence gives rise to significant contradictions. For instance, during the Commission’s 2004-2009 term of office, Commissioner McCreevy wanted to extend the period of validity of intellectual property rights for musicians and in particular, he specified, those of anonymous backing musicians whose royalties constitute their only provision for retirement (although such an extension would seem mainly to serve the interests of the record industry majors). Commissioner Neelie Kroes, on the other hand, required increased competition in collective management of royalties, which, according to ECSA (the European Composers' and Songwriters' Alliance) would lead to “a drastic reduction in income for millions of creators" and to "a catastrophic decline in artistic creativity, cultural diversity and income for authors".

ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD