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CMU@TGE 2017: When Music Gets Synchronised – TV and beyond

By | Published on Thursday 25 May 2017

Nicky Bignell

Look out for reports on all the key sessions at the CMU Insights conferences at The Great Escape over the next few weeks. Plus, from next Monday, we’ll be publishing a series of CMU Trends reports providing more in depth versions of the insight presentations CMU Insights delivered during TGE this year – go premium to access CMU Trends. Today, the new complexities around TV sync licensing as broadcasters evolve their businesses.

In theory the licensing of music for use in television programmes is pretty simple in that – outside the US – TV sync usually goes through the collective licensing system, with the collecting societies offering broadcasters and producers blanket licences. There are forms to fill out and money to be paid, but access to music isn’t usually a problem.

Though as the media business changes, not everything is covered by those blanket licences and new complexities are now emerging. Complications can occur when commercial media make content as part of brand partnerships, working more closely with brands than in the past. And there are licensing challenges when broadcasters look to put their content onto social media platforms, something they increasingly have to do in order to reach young consumers. These new complexities make using so called production or library music more attractive, reducing the opportunities for commercially released music to be synced.

These challenges were confirmed by The Box Plus Network’s Director Of Commercial & Business Affairs Stacey Mitsopulos and the BBC’s Head Of Music Licensing Nicky Bignell (pictured) when they joined CMU’s Chris Cooke and Sentric Music’s Simon Pursehouse as part of the CMU Insights Royalties Conference at The Great Escape.

The Box Plus Network operates seven music TV channels which offer a mix of curated music videos and original programming. The company has deals with collecting society PPL to cover the use of recordings in its programmes, and VPL which covers the use of music videos. On the song rights side it has licences with mechanical rights society MCPS to cover the synchronisation of music into its programmes, and with the performing rights focused PRS to cover the subsequent broadcast of those videos or shows.

The BBC has similar agreements with the various UK societies covering its large network of TV and radio stations. And while there will always be tensions between licensees and the collecting societies over rates and such like, both Mitsopulos and Bignell are fans of the blanket licence approach.

Says Bignell: “We pay a lot of money for our blanket licences but we’ve always felt that a single blanket licence is the way to go. We have so many channels and, of course, as well as TV we’ve got radio – ten network radio stations, and 40 or 50 regional and local radio stations as well. We use something like 250,000 separate pieces of music every week on the BBC. We couldn’t do it without the blanket licence”.

But both Mitsopulos and Bignell noted the limitations of the blanket licences. Mitsopulos observed: “If you’re creating the content and broadcasting the content, that’s fine. But if you are creating content that is going out elsewhere – such as some of our brand partnership work – then extra licensing will be required, which makes using library music an attractive option. We can’t give our partners like Netflix and Schwartzkopf content with the commercial music in it, unless they’ve cleared it themselves”.

The BBC also has similar issues, for example with the programmes it sells internationally, and the co-productions it does with broadcasters elsewhere in the world. “We don’t just make programmes that we broadcast in the UK”, said Bignell. “We make programmes and we sell them abroad through BBC Worldwide, to generate extra revenue to fund future programme making. And with a lot of our big dramas, these days we can’t afford to make them ourselves, so we have to have co-production money. And these things can all pose additional issues with music and music clearances”.

So while in the UK the BBC would generally rely on library music for creative rather than commercial reasons, with global projects – especially where the US is involved – going that route may be attractive to avoid having to clear lots of individual tracks, either to save money, or simply to save time where you have a production needing a fast turn around.

That is also true where content is going on third party platforms online where the blankets don’t apply. At the BBC, this has probably the biggest impact on BBC Three, the youth-focused channel that is now online-only, and which sees social media platforms as being key to reaching its audience. “Since BBC Three has gone online, lots of the people, the kids that are watching that content, do it via social media”, explained Bignell. “We have problems with the licences for social media, so all the content that BBC Three makes for social has just library music in it”.

Mitsopulos agreed that there were extra challenges using commercially-released music online. “Our licences from PRS and PPL allow us to do certain things online”, she said. “But it’s like ‘two minutes of this, not more than 30 seconds of that’. Sometimes it’s just easier to find some library music and put it in there”.

“With YouTube, we put artists’ performances that we have recorded for our programmes on there”, she continued. While Box, having recorded the performance, controls the recording in that case, the separate song rights still need to cleared. “But YouTube has negotiated deals with the collecting societies and the assumption is that we fall under those. Facebook on the other hand is a different matter”.

Ah yes, Facebook. Which is busy vying for YouTube’s position as music industry enemy number one as it pushes video content ever more to the fore, but without any licences for the music those videos routinely contain.

“For a while we were doing live sessions on Facebook which were super cool”, said Mitsolpulos. “Every Friday at 1pm we had a different artist, it was live and it was great. The labels were like ‘oh, we’re not getting paid by Facebook, but that’s fine because this is good promo for the artist’. But the publishers were saying, ‘we don’t care about the promo, nobody knows who the songwriter is'”.

“With a pop artist, the songwriter is often somebody else, and so the publishers took issue with the fact that they weren’t getting paid by Facebook”, she continued. “They started sending takedown notices to everybody and now you won’t see much [professionally produced] music content on Facebook, unless the production company or broadcaster has gone to the music publishers separately and said: ‘we want to play this song, here’s £2000′”.

Of course, while songwriters and publishers should be paid when their music is exploited, the licensing issues around Facebook are denying artists access to what could be their most valuable promotional platform. And in some cases – as Bignell discussed – those issues push back down the supply chain, so that TV content goes with library music to simplify any subsequent online distribution, denying artists both exposure and potential sync income.

Though Mitsopulos noted that recent hires at Facebook indicated that licensing deals were now being negotiated with the record companies and music publishers. However, doing those deals will likely be made more difficult by the fact that the social network has gone without licences for so long. “They should have just done it eight years ago”, she said.

Check out all the reports and resources CMU has published around this year’s CMU Insights @ The Great Escape conferences here.

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