The UK communications regulator has said that it will intervene to impose a code of practice for new media rights if the television industry is unable to come to its own arrangements.

Broadcasters and production companies are in dispute regarding rights relating to cross-platform distribution and exploitation of material originally commissioned for television broadcast, notably for video-on-demand and delivery to online and mobile platforms.

Under current terms, originally developed in a time of scheduled linear channels, broadcasters typically acquire the primary rights, generally for the first broadcast and a repeat, while independent producers retain secondary rights, such as overseas sales.

Broadcasters argue that they need more flexibility in the new media era.

Independent producers currently make most of their money from primary television rights, but emerging platforms represent a potentially lucrative new market.

The advent of video-on-demand and delivery of programmes over broadband and mobile networks represent important new forms of distribution, but their development has been frustrated by rights issues.

The BBC is currently advocating a seven-day ‘catch-up’ window, but Channel 4 is holding out for a thirty-day period.

Ofcom has given the industry a deadline of 21 March to agree terms for new media rights, otherwise it says it will have no option but to intervene. In its latest review of the UK television production sector, Ofcom proposes two main rights windows, outlining an approach it might adopt.

A primary window would apply the rights acquired by a public service broadcaster across any distribution platform, across any wholly-owned channel, for a specified duration, for free-to-view UK distribution.

A holdback period would then follow in which the broadcaster may limit the exploitation of rights by the producer. This restriction could be shorter than the current five-year period and the broadcaster could retain an option to extend the duration on further payment.

At the end of the holdback period, the ability to control exploitation of the programme would revert to the producer.