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EU determined to permit portable subs

Europe seems set for a head-to-head battle with TV rights’ holders such as the Hollywood studios and sports organisations by insisting that its citizens are permitted to watch content when abroad from their home market. December 9th should see more details emerge of the European Commission’s outline proposals.

The EC proposals, if implemented, would mean legitimate subscribers could be able to view movies, sports, Netflix-type services and content owned by their ‘home’ national broadcasters while they were temporarily abroad. However, the EC has not, as yet, defined what it envisages as a “temporary” absence from their home market.

The EC has long argued for this portability, and some 18 months ago the then European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, argued strongly at IBC that European citizens should be able to cross the EU’s natural borders and access audio-visual TV content from home as part of the drive towards a single digital economy.

The EC’s new digital single market commissioner is Andrus Ansip, and he has made it clear that the agenda is simple: “[To] allow people who subscribe to content services in one EU country – for books, music, games, films, drama, sport – to use those services when they are travelling in another country.” Ansip added that the EC will also consider a review of the current Cable and Satellite Directive and how it can be extended to online TV and radio programming.

Hollywood and the other rights-holders are doubly anxious: first that the EC rules, if implemented, could severely reduce revenues currently gained from multiple licensing deals across Europe’s 28 markets. Its second concern is that European residents would simply buy a product or service in a poorer EU market yet would then enjoy full access to that service.  A good example is English Premier League football which generates about £1 billion from the UK alone, but where revenues from the whole of the rest of Europe barely top £150 million.

The devil, however, is in the detail. Whatever emerges it seems likely that the only true winners in this European vs Hollywood battle of wills will be the lawyers.

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