UK: US – Style Retransmission Fees To Hit The UK?

Last Updated: 1 October 2014
Article by Paul Herbert

Is the current UK broadcasting framework – in which public service broadcasters are carried by cable and satellite service providers for no payment – overdue for an overhaul?

ITV and Channel 4 maintain that they should be permitted to levy retransmission fees for their carriage on Virgin Media and BSkyB, and the Culture Secretary appears to be listening. Last week, Sajid Javid responded to an appeal by the aforementioned, vowing to examine the fee-based relationship between platforms and broadcasters. His consultation will ascertain whether changes should be made to an arguably outmoded system which has been in place since the rollout of cable television in the 1980s. Interestingly, the BBC is not party to the PSBs' campaign as it apparently has a 'zero net fees' agreement with Sky.

The proposed fee revamp would see British carriers move in the direction of the retransmission consent standards which have been in place in the US since 1976. Although based in an essentially distinct market, cable operators in the States pay compulsory retransmission fees to terrestrial broadcasters like Fox Networks under the 1976 Copyright Act and the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992. According to Pew Research, 3.6 percent of total US broadcast television revenue emanates from retransmission fees, which recently topped $327m (£200.6m), having increased significantly over the last decade; they were $20m (£12m) in 2003.

In the UK, carriers pay commercial terms for other networks, but not for PSBs. In fact, the latter are required to compensate cable operators in order to transmit their main channels. An independent survey commissioned by the BBC revealed that the UK's retransmission terms for free-to-air networks are "the least generous" in the developed world. The move to allow PSBs to demand retransmission payments could bring in annual revenue streams to the tune of "tens of millions of pounds", according to the Financial Times.

ITV, which has spearheaded the so-called 'retrans' campaign, with the backing of Channel 4 and Five, attributes the development of North American TV's "golden age" to retransmission payments made to broadcasters. The not-so-subtle message to the Government and Ofcom is that the imposition of such fees by PSBs would be good for the industry and further, for viewers, thanks to enhanced original programming development facilitated by the additional revenue.

Weighing in on the consumer position of the debate, Graham McWilliam of Sky warns that in reality, viewers will end up footing the bill "for PSB channels that are supposed to be free". He argues that PSBs are singling out standards from an unrelated (US) market while receiving all the benefits of being a PSB in Britain. These include TV license fees for the BBC; and for all PSBs, guaranteed access to the requisite broadcasting spectrum, and preferential positioning on TV electronic programme guides. Notably, EPG status, said Mr Javid, will figure in DCMS' consultation on the matter.

Fanning the flames of the current retrans debate, this summer's US Supreme Court decision in American Broadcasting Companies v Aereo was not only significant in terms of its impact on copyright law, but also a wake-up call for US Networks. The cloud-based online TV service supplier Aereo, backed by entrepreneur and InterActiveCorp chairman Barry Diller, believed it had found a way around paying retransmission fees by its method of giving customers access to virtually live TV streams. The New York-based startup then passed on its savings to consumers by offering a low-cost subscription rate (estimated at over 85 percent below cable TV competitors' rates).

Aereo was able to receive linear terrestrial broadcast signals by way of small remotely-stored antennae, each of which was designated to a single subscriber during their viewing session. The company streamed programmes to users on a need basis, and not having obtained content rights or paid retrans fees, effectively cut out the middlemen. The startup has suspended its services in the wake of the 6-3 Supreme Court ruling against it.


The introduction of the proposed retrans fees could ultimately open up a Pandora's Box consisting of a US-style carriage payment scheme, and, say proponents, a robust and potentially thriving new era for the British TV industry. However, just as networks begin to reap the financial rewards of the retrans battle, they could be faced with a hornet's nest of as-of-yet-unexploited cloud-based tech workarounds capable of bypassing such fee systems. These seemingly inevitable scenarios – the beacons of a whole other TV era – will certainly require a nimble and anticipatory approach on the part of Parliament and regulators, as well as some creative interpretation by the courts.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.