Copyright and Internet

Commission opens the Pandora’s box of audiovisual geoblocking

On November 30, 2020 the European Commission published its first short-term report on the geo-blocking regulation. This publication was well awaited since voices said that the report was ready since March 2020 but, for some unknown reasons, there was reluctance to make it public.

The reason is now clear. While noting that the geoblocking regulation has worked generally well, the Commission intends now to consider the possibility to extend its scope to sector which are currently excluded such as the audiovisual one (movies ecc). The review is not for this year, but according to the Commisison the discussion deserves a start. By contrast, for other copyrights businesses, such as games, music and e-books, the evaluation is different.

Geo-bloking in the European audiovisual market

As regards movies, the Commission’s excludes a review for this year but it sees room for substantial improvement anyway. Fact is, the report highlights potential benefits for all consumers in Europe, notably in the availability of a wider choice of content across borders if the Geoblocking Regulation were to be extended to cover audio-visual content.

This is probably the first time that the policy branch of the European Commission takes such a position and it is remarkable. To time, the only real initiatives vis-à-vis barriers within the European audiovisual market came from competition investigations, notably in the Pay-TV sector.

The Commission appears aware of the potential impact of an extension of the geoblocking regulation’s scope on the overall dynamics of the audio-visual sector, and therefore proposes for a further assessment, including a stakeholders dialogue. This cautious approach is not a surprise, since the geoblocking issue in the audiovisual sector is a well-known Pandora box, as the content industry is traditionally defending the principle of territoriality in the Internet by all means. However, the reasons for open a discussion about the current system stem from the figures collected by the Commission, showing that there is demand by European consumers to get access access to online content streamed from other countries:

  • An extensive analysis of the availability of films through audio-visual online services in Member States shows that, on average, a European consumer only has access to 14% of the films available online in the EU27. There are significant variations by country, as for example, viewers in Greece have access only to 1.3% of the films available online in the EU, while those in Germany have access to 43.1%.
  • The number of consumers trying to access audio-visual content offered in other Member States almost doubled between 2015 and 2019 (from 5% to 9%). This is particularly high in younger age ranges, and it is the highest amongst content services. A 2019 Eurobarometerconfirmed that there is interest in gaining access to audio-visual content offered in different Member States.  

Banning geoblocking for movies and extending the Single Market principle to the audiovisual sector will not be easy an easy game at all. The resistance comes not only from well-established content operators (mainly commercial broadcasters and TV producers), but also from theirs clients (such as in particular big telcos and cable operators) as well as from global OTT which have recently entered the market. All such actors see a value in keeping the European market fragmented in order to extract more profits from each single national market. The paradox is that such a big industrial coalition defending the fragmentation of the European audiovisual market could convince the European Commission that, indeed, there is a problem to be solved.

The geobloking exception has been normally advocated in order to preserve the cultural and linguistic differentiation within the EU, however this argument is crap, as I explained here some months ago. Fact is, the biggest beneficiaries of the territoriality content business are US global corporations, rather than small European actors.

Other copyright-based sectors

By contrast, as regards music, e-books or videogames, the Report concludes that a further extension of the scope would not necessarily bring substantial benefits to consumers in terms of choice of content, as the catalogues offered are rather homogeneous (in many instances beyond 90%) among Member States.


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