Sunday, June 16, 2024

European Parliament Votes Not to Ban Geo-Blocking for Film and TV — For Now

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The European Parliament on Wednesday followed the advice of its film and TV industry and did not ban geo-blocking for films and TV content across the European Union.

Last week, 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, signed a joint letter calling on Euro politicians to oppose the ban, claiming it would wreak havoc on the industry.

The European Union banned geo-blocking for most online services in 2018, arguing digital barriers to cross-border trade were a violation of the EU’s principle of a digital single market. Film and TV content, however, was initially excluded from the ban. On Wednesday, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) agreed with the creatives and chose not to extend the geo-blocking ban to the audio-visual sector. MEPs argued a ban would result in “a significant loss of revenue, threaten investment in new content, reduce the cultural diversity of content and decrease distribution channels, and ultimately raise prices for consumers.”

Media companies in Europe have long argued that geo-blocking and, more broadly, territorial exclusivity are key to their business models. By licensing contracts for exclusive regional or linguistic rights — for a French film in Belgium, say, or a German soccer league match in Spain — producers and distributors can maximize their return for content. Without geo-blocking technology preventing cross-border comparison shopping, they fear there will be widespread price dumping, with the lowest-value territory dictating the licensing fee for the entire EU.

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.

But the European Parliament has only tabled the geo-blocking ban, not rejected it entirely. MEPs instead called for a “realistic timeframe” for the audio-visual sector to adapt its business models and adjust to a proper single digital market.

“It is also time to meet the demands of citizens by making it easier to access movies, series and sporting events in their native language,” said Polish MEP Beata Mazurek. “The Commission should carefully assess the options for updating the current rules and provide the support the audio-visual sector needs.”

On Nov. 30, 2020, The European Commission published its first evaluation of the impact of the geo-blocking legislation. The next report will be carried out by 2025.

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