Sunday

22nd May 2022

EU takes step to end TV 'geo-blocking'

  • The EU has begun a review of its rules on cable and satellite TV (Photo: Craig Sunter)

The EU has opened a public review of its two-decades old Satellite and Cable Directive, a process which could lead to media companies being prevented from blocking access to pay-TV services and movies in specific countries.

The public consultation period began on Monday (24 August) and ends in mid-November, after which the commission will decide whether to draft new legislation.

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In a statement, the commission said that it “wants to assess, first, to what extent the Satellite and Cable Directive has improved consumers' cross-border access to broadcasting services in the internal market, and, also, what would be the impact of extending the directive to TV and radio programmes provided over the Internet, notably broadcasters' online services.”

The 1993 directive, which sets out the rules under which broadcasters can use copyrighted material, was last reviewed in 2002 when the Commission judged that it was “too early to determine whether to extend the scope of the directive”.

However, the question of whether television networks, film studios and pay-TV networks should be able to strike licensing agreements that only allow viewers in one EU country to access them - a practice known as ‘geo-blocking’ - has become increasingly controversial, particularly as it has become easier for viewers to web-stream programmes for free on legal and illegal sites.

The EU executive filed a formal statement of objections to Sky UK and six major US film studios including Disney and Warner Bros last month, accusing them of breaking EU competition rules by geo-blocking potential customers in other EU countries from watching TV shows and movies.

The commission has promised to reform the bloc’s rules for several years, while digital agenda vice-president Andrus Ansip pledged in April to review the Satellite and Cable Directive as part of the new digital single market strategy.

Ansip has been promising to end geo-blocking since taking office last autumn, having voiced his frustration about being unable to watch football matches in his native Estonia because of geo-blocking rules.

A parallel consultation on the EU’s audiovisual media directive is also currently ongoing and lasts until the end of September.

Selling rights on a pan-European rather than a country-by-country basis would reduce their value and could lead to rights-holders requiring their TV partners to include more copyrighted elements in broadcasts.

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