IFRS 15 Media and entertainment Revenue complete correct recognition

IFRS 15 Media and entertainment

The media and entertainment (M&E) industry comprises a diverse set of sub-sectors, including filmed entertainment, television and cable broadcast, data services, advertising, music, video games and publishing. This narrative explores the effects of the revenue standards (ASC 606 and IFRS 15, Revenue from Contracts with Customers) on these sub-sectors.

The standards apply to all contracts with customers, excluding leases, financial instruments, and certain guarantees and arrangements in the scope of other guidance. As such, it is important to identify whether the counterparty to the arrangement is a customer.

The standards define a customer as “a party that has contracted with an entity to obtain goods or services that are an output of the entity’s ordinary activities in exchange for consideration.” The analysis may be straightforward in many instances, but in other situations, it will be more complicated to confirm whether a customer relationship exists.IFRS 15 Media and entertainment

For instance, M&E companies need to evaluate their collaborative arrangements to determine if those arrangements are contracts with customers and thus in the scope of the standards. A contract outside the scope of the standards is one in which a collaborator or partner shares in the risk of developing a good, rather than obtaining an output of the company’s ordinary activities.

For example, a film studio may enter into an arrangement with a counterparty (such as another production company) to co-develop a film for international distribution. Such an arrangement may not be in the scope of the revenue standards if the parties share the risk of developing the film. Alternatively, it likely is in scope if the substance of the arrangement is that the studio is licensing its film to the counterparty or providing production services.

M&E Licenses

Licenses in the M&E industry take a variety of forms, such as a license to a music catalogue, data, rights to a syndicated television show, or to utilize an animated character’s image.

A company will generally need to apply the other steps of the standards (1. identify the contract, 2. identify performance obligations, 3. determine the transaction price, and 4. allocate the price to separate performance obligations) to determine how to recognize revenue for its license arrangements, just as it would for non-licenseIFRS 15 media and entertainmentarrangements.

Removal of the industry specific guidance on licenses and use of the IFRS 15 5-step model will result in a change to the timing of recognition of revenue in some cases.

The license model recognizes revenue from certain licenses at a point in time and others over time; however, the guidance for evaluating the nature of the promise in granting a license of intellectual property (IP) differs between ASC 606 and IFRS 15.

Under IFRS 15, determining whether a company’s promise to grant a license provides a customer with either a right to access IP or a right to use IP depends on whether a customer can direct the use of, and obtain substantially all of the remaining benefits from, a license at the point in time at which the license is granted.

The nature of a company’s promise in granting a license is a promise to provide a right to access IP if all of the following criteria are met:

  • the contract requires, or the customer reasonably expects, that the company will undertake activities that significantly affect the intellectual property to which the customer has rights;
  • the rights granted by the license directly expose the customer to any positive or negative effects of the company’s activities; and
  • those activities do not result in the transfer of a good or a service to the customer as those activities occur

All other licenses are treated as a right to use.

In general the outcome of applying the two standards are similar; however, there are fact patterns for which outcomes could differ.

Impact of license restrictions:
Many licenses within the M&E industry include provisions that specify the licensee’s rights with respect to the use of the IP (e.g., use for a specified term or in a specified geography). IFRS 15 revenue guidance requires companies to distinguish between (1) contractual provisions that define the attributes of a license of IP and (2) provisions that represent additional promised goods or services to the customer.

Contractual provisions that are attributes of a single promised license define the scope of a customer’s rights to IP and do not affect the number of performance obligations or whether a performance obligation is satisfied at a point in time or over time.

ASC 606 and IFRS 15 use different words to explain how contractual restrictions may impact the number of promises in a contract. The FASB included additional examples related to license restrictions. In general the concepts in the two standards are considered similar; however, companies may reach different conclusions under the two standards given that ASC 606 contains more specific guidance.

The nature of a company’s promise in granting a license

The accounting for licenses have the potential to affect many M&E companies that previously followed industry-specific revenue guidance in US GAAP.

A company must first establish whether a license is distinct from other goods and services in the arrangement before determining the pattern of revenue recognition for the license. In some cases, the identification of distinct licenses may be challenging, especially when trying to differentiate between contractual provisions that (1) define the attributes of a single promised license and (2) those that transfer control of additional rights to the customer.

The revenue standards include specific implementation guidance for accounting for licenses of IP. The overall framework is similar, but there are some differences between US GAAP and IFRS. In particular, there is different guidance for evaluating whether a license is a right to access IP or a right to use IP.

Under US GAAP, common examples of functional IP and symbolic IP in the M&E industry include licenses of the following:

IFRS 15 media and entertainment

Under IFRS, the determination of whether a promise to grant a license provides a right to access IP or a right to use IP is based on whether the IP is significantly affected by the company’s activities.

Revenue related to certain types of licenses may be accelerated, whereas others could be deferred compared to the current treatment. For example, licenses of symbolic IP such as franchise rights, which may have been recognized at a point in time under existing guidance, are recognized over time. Further, under US GAAP and IFRS, functional IP related to software and media content are recognized at a point in time.

Case – License of a sports team brand

Facts: Licensor licenses the brand name of a defunct sports team (e.g., Brooklyn Dodgers) to use in its production of memorabilia.

What is the nature of the brand name license?

Consideration
The license is symbolic IP. Under US GAAP the company determines that the licensed IP (the brand name) is symbolic because it has no standalone functionality (e.g., the brand name cannot process a transaction, perform a function or task). As a result, revenue would be recognized over time.

In contrast, under IFRS, the licensor may recognize revenue at a point in time if the licensor will no longer undertake activities that significantly affect the IP (i.e., the brand name).

Contractual restrictions in license arrangements

Many licenses within the M&E industry include contractual provisions that restrict the licensee’s use of the IP. For example, a license to a film for a two-year period may contain a contractual provision that prohibits the licensee from running the film more than five times over that two-year period. Judgment is required in determining whether contractual restrictions of time, geography, or use:

  1. affect the number of promised goods or services in a contract; or
  2. define attributes of a single promised license.

IFRS 15 media and entertainment

ASC 606 and IFRS 15 use different terminology to explain these concepts. ASC 606 also includes additional examples (Examples 61A and 61B) of license restrictions and their accounting impact. In general, the concepts in the standards are considered similar; however, companies may reach different conclusions under the standards given that ASC 606 contains more detailed guidance.

IFRS 15 requires a company to determine whether the additional rights are an attribute of the license and if not, to apply the guidance for identifying performance obligations. Significant judgment will be required to assess whether a contractual provision in a license creates an obligation to transfer multiple licenses (and therefore separate performance obligations) or whether the provision is a restriction that represents an attribute of a single license.

The following examples illustrate the impact of restrictions in a license to IP.

Case – M&E License restrictions – restrictions are an attribute of the license

Facts: A studio licenses rights that permit a cable channel to exhibit a film up to five times during a two-year term.

What is the impact of the contractual provisions that restrict the use of IP in this arrangement?

Consideration
Since the licensor transfers control of all the licensed rights at inception, the contractual restrictions in this arrangement are considered attributes of the license. Such restrictions are not indicative of multiple performance obligations.

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In contrast, if the studio licensed five separate films to be exhibited over the same two-year period, but the films were not all available at inception, the transfer of the rights to each film would likely be separate performance obligations.

A company would need to evaluate each performance obligation separately to assess the timing of recognition.

License revenue should not be recognized until the licensee can benefit from the rights that have been transferred.

Case – License restrictions – distinguishing multiple licenses from attributes of a single license

Facts: Producer licenses to Cable Co. the right to broadcast a television series domestically for years 1-3 (January 1, 20X0- December 31, 20X2) for an upfront license fee. For years 4 and 5 (January 1, 20X3- December 31, 20X4), Cable Co. is provided with the right to broadcast the television series internationally.

What is the impact of the contractual provisions that restrict the use of IP in this arrangement?

Consideration
Producer determines, based on analyzing the specific provisions of the arrangement, its promise is to deliver multiple licenses, including a domestic license and an international license, as the arrangement requires Producer to transfer control of additional rights (right to broadcast internationally) to Cable Co. at the beginning of year 4.

Producer should allocate the transaction price (i.e., the upfront fee) to the two separate performance obligations because it has concluded that there are two distinct licenses. The allocation should be based on relative stand-alone selling prices, and revenue should be recognized when the customer has the ability to use and benefit from its right to use the IP. The revenue allocated to the license to use the IP domestically would be recognized on January 1, 20X0.

The revenue allocated to the license to use the IP internationally would be recognized on January 1, 20X3.

Each license would be recognized at a point in time as the television series represents functional IP under US GAAP.

Under IFRS, each license would be recognized at a point in time assuming Producer does not undertake activities that significantly affect the IP.

Modifications

Contract modifications are accounted for as either a separate contract or as part of the existing contract (either prospectively or through a cumulative catch-up adjustment). This assessment is driven by whether (1) the modification adds distinct goods and services and (2) the additional goods and services are priced at their stand-alone selling prices.

Renewals/extensions

Renewals or extensions of the license rights are common in various M&E sub-sectors in which the licensee pays consideration for the right to use IP for an additional time period. In many instances, the IP is already available to the licensee at the time the licensee decides to renew the license. This raises a question as to when revenue should be recognized for the renewal period.

US GAAP specifies that revenue from the renewal or extension of a license cannot be recognized until the customer can use or benefit from the license renewal (that is, at the beginning of the renewal period). This is true even if the licensor provides a copy of the IP in advance of the renewal period or the customer has a copy of the IP from another transaction.

Case – License modifications/extensions

Facts: Assume the same facts as in Example 3, but after year 4, Cable Co. pays a fee to renew both licenses for an additional two years commencing after year 5.

When should Producer recognize revenue for the renewal?

Consideration
Producer should not recognize revenue arising from the extension prior to year 6 because Cable Co. cannot use and benefit from the license before the beginning of year 6 consistent with TRG Memo No.45, Specific Application Issues About Restrictions and Renewals. That paper indicates that revenue cannot be recognized for a renewal before the renewal period begins.

The renewal is a form of modification in that the parties have extended the contract, and Producer should apply the contract modification guidance in IFRS 15 to modifications that grant additional distinct licenses in the same manner that one would apply that guidance to any other modification that adds additional distinct goods or services. Producer should evaluate whether the renewal should be treated as a new license or the modification of an existing license.

In this scenario, it is likely that the Producer would conclude that the renewal is distinct under US GAAP and possibly also under IFRS. If the price for the renewal reflects its stand-alone selling price, Producer will account for the renewal as a separate contract with Cable Co. Alternatively, if the price for the renewal does not reflect the stand-alone selling price of the renewal, Producer will account for the renewal as a modification of the original license contract.

Sales- or usage-based royalties on licenses of IP

The FASB and IASB decided on an exception relating to variable consideration for sales- or usage-based royalties of licensed IP. Under this exception, revenue related to a sales- or usage-based royalty cannot be recognized until the actual sale or usage occurs and the performance obligation to which it has been allocated has been satisfied (or partially satisfied).

This means that, in many cases, the accounting treatment of contingent royalty transactions remains consistent with current practice under both US GAAP and IFRS. When actual sales or usage data is not available at the end of reporting period, M&E companies will need to use judgment to estimate the royalties for that period.

Additionally, when applying this exception to an arrangement, it is not appropriate to recognize revenue in the period that the sales or usages are reported by the customer (i.e., recognize on a “lag” basis). As a result, it may be necessary to estimate sales or usages.

Sales- or usage-based royalties on two or more promises

Additional complexity arises when a license of IP is bundled with other goods and services. For example, assume a company licenses IP and also sells goods to the customer in the same contract. The fee structure is in the form of a revenue sharing arrangement entitling the licensee to a percentage of sales related to both the goods sold and the license.

The standards stipulate that in such circumstances, the royalty exception should only be applied when the sole or predominant item to which the royalty relates is a license of IP. Otherwise, the licensor would apply the general variable consideration guidance to estimate the transaction price and allocate the transaction price between the license and the other goods or services.

Although the FASB and IASB did not provide a specific definition of “predominant,” the standards note that if a customer would ascribe significantly more value to the license component, it would likely be predominant. Judgment will be required to determine whether the predominant item to which a royalty relates is the license component.

Minimum guarantees

Minimum guarantees are common in the M&E industry and are often used in license arrangements in which the consideration is in the form of a sales- or usage-based royalty. In some cases, the minimum guarantee is negotiated due to uncertainty about the customer’s performance and its ability to successfully exploit the intellectual property.

In other cases, the minimum guarantee is established as a cash flow management tool to provide the licensor with predictable timing of some of the cash flows under the contract. Questions are arising in practice when determining whether and how the guaranteed minimum impacts the application of the recognition constraint for sales- or usage-based royalties for licenses of intellectual property.

At the November 2016 TRG meeting, the TRG noted that, for functional IP, a minimum royalty guarantee is fixed consideration and should be recognized when the licensor transfers control of the IP to the licensee. The variable consideration (i.e., the amount above the fixed minimum) should be recognized in accordance with the sales- or usage-based royalty exception.

For licenses in which revenue is recognized over time (i.e., symbolic IP), the TRG discussed three acceptable approaches when applying the sales- or usage-based exception for licenses of symbolic IP that include a minimum guarantee:

  • Recognize revenue as the royalties occur if the licensor expects the total royalties to exceed the minimum guarantee.
  • Estimate the total transaction price (including fixed and variable consideration) that will be earned over the term of the license. Using an appropriate measure of progress, recognize revenue subject to the royalty constraint.
  • Recognize the minimum guarantee (fixed consideration) using an appropriate measure of progress, and recognize royalties only when cumulative royalties exceed the minimum guarantee. Since the revenue standards do not prescribe a single approach, judgment must be applied when selecting a methodology used to measure progress. In general, any of the three views are reasonable, although companies should select the method that best depicts the transfer of goods and services to customers. Companies should also consider the nature of their arrangements and ensure that the measure of progress does not conflict with the core principles of the revenue standards, such as the royalty constraint or allocation principle. Companies should also appropriately disclose their judgments in this area, if material. Other methodologies may also be appropriate if they meet the core objective of the revenue standards.

Some stakeholders have identified complexities in applying the licensing accounting model for licenses satisfied at a point in time (i.e., functional IP) when there is more than one performance obligation – in particular when there is a sales- or usage-based royalty that also contains a minimum guarantee.

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At the most recent TRG meeting, the TRG confirmed that a minimum guarantee should be treated as fixed consideration; however, it did not address some of the complexities that exist in allocating minimum guarantees to multiple performance obligations or the interaction between the fixed consideration and the sales or usage based royalties. Judgment will be required when determining how to allocate a minimum guarantee to multiple performance obligations based on the facts and circumstances of these arrangements.

Multiple performance obligations

The revenue standards require companies to identify all of the promises in a contract and to determine whether those promises are distinct. A performance obligation is a promise to transfer goods or perform services that are distinct from other promises in the contract. The criteria for separating performance obligations are similar to existing standards, but there are several differences.

Identification of performance obligations

The model requires promises that are “distinct” to be accounted for separately (assuming they are satisfied at different times). A good or service is distinct and should be accounted for separately if the customer can benefit from the good or service either on its own or together with other resources readily available to the customer and if the company’s promise to transfer the good or service to the customer is separable from other promises in the contract (i.e., the promise to transfer the good or service is distinct within the context of the contract).

Allocation of transaction price

The transaction price should be allocated to each performance obligation based on relative stand-alone selling prices. If a stand-alone selling price is not available, companies should estimate it, maximizing the use of observable inputs.

Identifying performance obligations

Companies might identify different performance obligations under the standards than under current guidance, and they may need to allocate the transaction price to those performance obligations differently than they do today.

The following are common bundled arrangements which may include more than one performance obligation:

  • Distribution agreements that provide customers with different services throughout the subscription period
  • Advertising arrangements that involve the provision of creative, production, media buying and media planning services
  • Licensing arrangements that provide access to library content as well as future updates (i.e., new content)
  • The license of a music download to a consumer along with an obligation to continue to host the content remotely to allow for future downloads

In each of these situations, a company should first determine if its customer can benefit from a good or service on its own or together with resources readily available to it. The company will then need to determine if that good or service is separable from other promises in the contract, meaning it is distinct within the context of the contract. This determination will require judgment. The standards provide indicators to help determine if a promise can be separated from other promises in the contract:

  • Whether the company is providing a significant service of integrating the goods or services with other goods or services in the contract into a bundle of goods or services that represents the output the customer has contracted to receive
  • Whether the good or service significantly customizes or modifies another good or service in the contract
  • Whether the good or service is highly dependent on, or highly interrelated with, other goods and services in the contract. For example, the individual inputs combine to form one overall combined output

Within the M&E industry, these judgments may become more challenging with the growth of digital business models and the proliferation of on-demand streaming services and other emerging platforms.

Case – License to data files with updates

Facts: Data Co. licenses a business information database to a customer for a one-year period. Initial data files – reflecting the data as of the inception date of the arrangement – are delivered on the first day of the license term. Data Co. also promises to provide updates to the data on a when-and-if-available basis.

Updates can include new information, changes to existing information, and removal of information that is obsolete. The initial data licensed is able to be used without the updates and is not significantly affected by the updates.

The customer has requested that an updated complete dataset be provided monthly versus providing only the change-based updated data. As a result, Data Co. has agreed to provide the customer 12 data files over the term: one at inception, and eleven that include updates, as applicable, at the beginning of each of the months in the term.

How many performance obligations does Data Co. have?

Consideration

Data Co. would likely identify two performance obligations: (1) a license to the initial data set and (2) a promise to provide the updates over the term. In this example, the fact that the initial licensed data can be used without the updates and is not significantly affected by the updates indicates that the licensed data, at inception, is a separate performance obligation.

The second performance obligation is a promise to provide updates to the data, on a when-and-if-available basis, over the contract term. In general, the manner in which the updates are agreed to be delivered (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly) generally will not impact the number of performance obligations identified.

Typically, a promise to provide unspecified updates on a when-and-if-available basis will be viewed as a performance obligation recognized over the term using an appropriate measure of progress.

Within the M&E industry, there are a number of similar examples (e.g., film, television, or music content) whereby a company promises to provide a library of IP at inception as well as IP updates over the term. Typically, these arrangements result in a conclusion that the promises represent two separate performance obligations. However, analysis of the facts is required to determine whether the promises are distinct or whether there is a single performance obligation.

Allocating transaction price

Allocating the transaction price across multiple performance obligations in an arrangement could differ from current practice in certain circumstances.

Consider an advertising contract that provides free spots or other services at the inception of a contract with contracted spots billed at a higher rate. Under current US GAAP, no amounts are allocated to the free front-end spots, even if they have stand-alone value, since all consideration is contingent on providing the spots in the future.

Under the standards, the transaction price for the entire arrangement is allocated to each of the spots based upon relative stand-alone selling price and revenue is recognized as each performance obligation is satisfied.

The stand-alone selling price of a good or service must be estimated if it is not sold on a stand-alone basis. The standards allow for several approaches to estimate relative selling price.

Variable consideration

The transaction price is the amount of consideration to which a company expects to be entitled in exchange for transferring promised goods or services to a customer. The transaction price may include an element of consideration that is variable or contingent on the outcome of future events, including discounts, rebates, refunds, credits, incentives, performance bonuses and royalties.

Variable consideration is common in many forms in the M&E industry. Examples include sales- or usage- based royalties, price protection offered on home entertainment DVD sales, cumulative volume discounts offered to significant advertisers, and qualitative and quantitative performance bonuses in advertising contracts.

Variable consideration should be estimated and included in the transaction price to the extent it is probable [US GAAP] or highly probable [IFRS] that a significant subsequent reversal in the cumulative amount of revenue recognized will not occur if estimates of variable consideration change.

An exception is provided for revenue recognized from sales- or usage-based royalties stemming from licenses of IP. Royalties from licenses of IP should not be included in the transaction price until the subsequent sale or usage occurs, and the related performance obligation has been satisfied (or partially satisfied).

Variable consideration other than sales- or usage-based royalties

Besides sales- or usage-based royalties, other forms of variable consideration are common in the M&E industry. A company may estimate variable consideration utilizing the expected value method (i.e., the estimate is the sum of probability-weighted amounts) or the most likely value method (i.e., the estimate is the single most likely result). A company must use the method that best predicts the variable consideration in the circumstances.

Factors to consider when determining whether it is probable [US GAAP] or highly probable [IFRS] that a significant reversal of revenue will not occur include the length of time of any underlying uncertainty, the company’s prior experience with similar transactions, and the range of possible outcomes and the resulting impact on transaction consideration.

A company that is currently deferring revenue from certain transactions pending the resolution of a price contingency may be required to recognize revenue earlier if there is a minimum amount that can be estimated that is probable [US GAAP] or highly probable [IFRS] of not having a significant revenue reversal in the future.

For example, an advertising agency that earns performance bonuses on marketing contracts is required to estimate the bonuses to be achieved when recognizing revenue as the related performance obligations are fulfilled.

When a company receives all of the bonus or none of it, a company might conclude that the most likely value is the most appropriate method. An agency that earns a fee that varies over a range of customer advertising outcomes may, however, determine that an expected value approach provides a better estimate of the transaction price.

In all cases, the agency would need to consider the constraint and whether it is probable or highly probable that a significant reversal of revenue would not occur.

Something else -   Licences of intellectual property

A similar analysis would be required for other forms of variable consideration, including adjustments to rates upon triggering a most-favored-nation clause and price protection that is offered on DVD or video game sales.

M& E Barter transactions

Several M&E sub-sectors engage in barter transactions, typically exchanging advertising for advertising, goods or services. The standards could change how the transaction price is measured in some situations in that they do not have industry-specific barter guidance.

More specifically, the standards do not contain specific guidance on advertising-for-advertising transactions. Further, existing guidance that provides an exemption for barter transactions involving the exchange of advertising time for network programming from being reported at fair value has been superseded.

Revenue is recorded at the fair value of cash and noncash consideration received or promised from the customer. The fair value is measured at contract inception. The constraint on variable consideration is applied when the fair value of noncash consideration varies only for reasons other than the form of consideration.

Judgment may be necessary to determine the fair value of advertising when a limited market exists and the fair value of noncash consideration. A company must first look to the value of the good or service received, as opposed to the good or service surrendered, when measuring noncash consideration received from a customer.

Producers and distributors of TV and film IP often license their programs/films to TV stations and cable networks (broadcasters) for consideration that includes a fixed cash amount and the right to monetize advertising spots to be aired with the content (barter).

Under the revenue standards, the question arises as to whether the advertising time received should be accounted for as noncash consideration, which would require the producer to measure the advertising spots at fair value at contract inception. Under this view, the producer would record:

  • Licensing revenue for both the cash consideration and the fair value of the advertising spots when the content is delivered to the broadcaster
  • Advertising revenue (and corresponding cost of sales) for the subsequent sale of the advertising spots to advertisers.

Case – Accounting for rights to advertising spots received in a licensing arrangement (barter)

Facts: Producer licenses a TV series to Broadcaster for a three-year period. Producer receives (1) fixed cash consideration and (2) rights to a portion of the available advertising airtime within the licensed content (5 of the 10 available minutes of advertising spot airtime during each episode). Broadcaster obtains the rights to monetize the remaining advertising airtime.

How should Producer recognize revenue for the ad spots in this arrangement? How should the Broadcaster account for this arrangement?

Analysis:

Producer
The Producer would generally recognize revenue related to the advertising spots once they are sold to third parties.

Some view the Producer as effectively monetizing its content in two ways with two different customers: (1) through the license of the content to the Broadcaster and (2) through the sale of adjacent advertising time to third-party advertisers.

Others may view the consideration received from the subsequent sale of advertising as an in-substance sales-based royalty related to the IP license which should not be recorded until the advertising sales occur. Either of these approaches would likely yield a similar financial reporting outcome.

Other companies may conclude that the advertising spots are noncash consideration received from the Broadcaster in exchange for the license. Companies applying this view should carefully consider how to value the advertising spots as the fair value impacts the amount of revenue recognized in the transaction.

Under this view, the Producer will measure the fair value of the advertising spots at contract inception and record revenue for both the cash and noncash consideration when the content is delivered to the Broadcaster.

Broadcaster
Broadcasters account for advertising spots provided in exchange for other goods or services (unrelated to the content in which the spots air) to be accounted for pursuant to the noncash consideration guidance in the standards.

Principal versus agent in Media and entertainment

Some arrangements involve two or more unrelated parties that contribute to providing a specified good or service to a customer. In these instances, management will need to determine whether the company has promised to provide the specified good or service itself as a principal or to arrange for those specified goods or services to be provided by another party as an agent. This determination often requires judgment, and different conclusions can significantly impact the amount and timing of revenue recognition.

Management should first understand the relationships and contractual arrangements among the various parties. This includes identifying the specified good or service being provided to the end customer and determining whether the company controls that good or service before it is transferred to the end customer. The standards provide indicators to help management assess whether the company obtains control of the specified good or service.

A company is a principal in a transaction if it obtains control of the goods and services of another party before it transfers control over those goods and services to the customer. A company that is a principal obtains control of any one of the following:

  • A good from the other party that it then transfers to the customer
  • A right to a service to be performed by the other party that gives the company the ability to direct that party to provide the service to the customer on the company’s behalf
  • A good or service that the company then combines with others in providing the specific good or service to a customer

If the determination of whether the company controls the specified good or service (i.e., is a principal) is unclear, companies should evaluate the following indicators :

  • Primary responsibility for fulfilling the promise
  • Inventory risk
  • Discretion in establishing price

No relative weighting is provided to the indicators.

The standards require a company to assess whether it controls the specified good or service, and the indicators are intended to support the control assessment. Under the standards, no single indicator is determinative or weighted more heavily than other indicators. However, some indicators may provide stronger evidence than others, depending on the circumstances.

The principal versus agent assessment is often required for arrangements in the M&E industry. For example:

  • Determining whether a content owner or an online retailer is the principal with respect to the sale of an electronic book, a movie or a song to a consumer
  • Determining whether a producer or distributing studio is the principal with respect to film exploitation
  • Determining which of many potential parties is the principal in an internet advertising transaction
  • Determining whether a video game company is the principal when hosting third party gaming software on its platform

With the growth of digital business models, which often involve no physical goods and little inventory risk, these judgments are expected to increase in significance and complexity. Additionally, M&E companies who have previously reached a principal or agent conclusion based primarily on factors relating to which party has exposure to risk and rewards should evaluate the indicators of control under the guidance.

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