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Entertainment Sector Unites to Oppose European Law That Would Ban Geo-Blocking

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More than 600 film and TV companies from across Europe, as well as representatives of Hollywood studios, sports leagues, film festivals and film and TV markets, have signed a letter in opposition to proposed legislation that would ban geo-blocking across the European Union.

Next Wednesday, Dec. 13, the European Parliament will vote on whether to adopt a proposal that would see audio-visual content, from Hollywood films to French TV series to English soccer games, included in EU regulations that ban the use of geo-blocking technology to enforce territorial exclusivity for film and TV content.

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The EU banned geo-blocking for most services as part of wide-reaching legislation in 2018, arguing erecting online barriers to cross-border trade was a violation of the EU’s principle of a digital single market. Audiovisual content, however, was initially excluded from the ban. Media companies have long argued that territorial exclusivity is key to their business models and that getting rid of it would jeopardize the creative and economic sustainability of the film and TV sectors in Europe.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, representatives of most major studios, including Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures, and Paramount joined forces with European giants Canal+, RTL, TF1, Sky, ProSiebenSat.1, Wildbunch and Leonine, representatives of major sports leagues, including England’s Premier League of soccer, Germany’s DFL and Italy’s Serie A, and distributors and exhibitor groups, including the MPA and European exhibitors organization UNIC, in a joint letter calling for the EU to reject the proposal and keep territorial exclusivity in place.

In addition to private companies, representatives of the Cannes and Berlin film markets, the Venice Film Festival, the European Film Academy and the international television festival Series Mania were among the letter’s signatories.

Banning geo-blocking for film and TV content “would result in a drop in the number and range of films and audiovisual content produced… Distribution and circulation would be drastically reduced,” the letter reads. The companies argue the result of a geo-blocking ban would be a “significant reduction of choice in content, distribution, and access options as well as a surge in prices” for consumers.

In 2018, the film and audiovisual sector in Europe was worth €121.7 billion ($131 billion), or just over half of the $257 billion North American market, according to data compiled by industry representatives from publicly-available sources including the European Audiovisual Observatory, the MPAA, Eurostat and Bpifrance. But Europe is still largely a patchwork market of individual nation states or linguistic regions with small and mid-sized companies accounting for the vast majority of employment in the sector.

U.S.-owned streamers, including Netflix, Amazon and Disney+, operate across the entire EU but the bulk of film and TV financing, production and distribution is done locally. Licensing contracts for exclusive regional or linguistic rights — for a French film in Belgium, say, or an English Premier League match in Norway — form the basis of the industry, with pricing differing according to demand. Lower-income territories in Eastern Europe on average pay less for films and TV services than those in the richer West. Rights for an Italian soccer match are worth more in Italy than they are in Finland. Companies use geo-blocking technology to prevent cross-border comparison shopping, which they fear will lead to price dumping, with the lowest-value territory dictating the licensing fee for the entire EU.

Disrupting the model by banning geo-blocking, would, industry representatives claim, sharply reduce the value of most European content, reducing the incentive to invest in work from less widely spoken local languages or in content with less-obvious multi-territory appeal.

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