The BBC is considering Brussels as the location for a new EU base after Brexit to allow it to continue to broadcast across the continent.
Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, has disclosed that he held discussions on the possibility in Davos with the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall.
“Belgium is often on the shortlist of companies eager to anchor in the European Union after Brexit,” Michel said from the Swiss town hosting the World Economic Forum.
It is understood that the BBC is also looking at the Netherlands and Ireland as potential sites for the new offshoot.
The BBC will need EU-based licences for its international channels – which include BBC World, BBC Entertainment, BBC First, and BBC Earth – if it wishes to have them broadcast across the rest of Europe either after 29 March, if the UK leaves without a deal, or after the transition period, should Theresa May’s agreement be approved by parliament.
The prime minister has been seeking to include the audiovisual industry in a free trade agreement to avoid the problem, but her pleas have been ignored.
Last week, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, confirmed his opposition to Downing Street’s request. He said in a letter to a concerned group that he had no intention of permitting the UK to continue to dominate the industry.
“France has consistently defended the exclusion of audiovisual services from free trade agreements,” he wrote. “This is an essential issue, which concerns the protection of cultural diversity.
“Our country has made it a major point in every trade negotiation. It has thus obtained, in all the free trade agreements the EU has concluded, the exclusion of audiovisual services.”
As a result, to secure a pan-EU broadcast licence, the corporation will need to have its head office, a significant part of its workforce or a satellite uplink in the country to qualify for a licence there, a demand which could lead to the BBC moving some staff and operations into the EU.
More than 500 pan-European channels currently use licences issued by the British regulator Ofcom. International media companies reportedly spend about £1bn a year in the UK, making it the most significant such hub.
After Brexit, however, the licences are likely to be invalid as the UK will have left the EU’s single market.
Last September, the British online sports channel DAZN said it was opening a development centre in Amsterdam as it sought to realise its ambition of becoming the “Netflix of sports”. The channel provides livestreams of Champions League football, Formula One and the ATP tennis tour in both English and German-speaking countries plus Japan.
Turner Broadcasting System Deutschland and NBC Universal Global Networks Deutschland have also taken steps to secure EU licences.
A BBC Studios spokesperson said: “BBC Studios, a commercial arm of the BBC, operates a number of bespoke TV channels outside of the UK, including some that are broadcast in the European Union. We will be keeping the situation under close review to ensure that we can continue to best serve our audiences in any changed regulatory environment.”
BBC sources said that there were decision-making and workforce requirements, but that they expected the number of staff employed in the new base to be limited in number.