Digital Single Market: New EU rules for online subscription services


Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Digital Single Market, participates at the Startup Europe Week Launch Event in Brussels. © European Union , 2017 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Jennifer Jacquemart

EU Regulators have found last week an agreement on new rules concerning online content portability, allowing EU citizens to access online subscription services with no restrictions while travelling within the Union. The new rules will practically end the so-called “geo-blocking tactics”, and will enable European consumers to access services such as Netflix, Sky’s Now and Spotify “the same way they access them at home”.

The agreement comes only days after EU negotiators announced the end of roaming charges starting from June this year, as part of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy.

The plan

Last week’s announcement is the latest chapter of a two year process that began after the European Union unveiled the ambitious plan of having a Digital Single Market, with no borders and barriers on e-commerce and digital services. The deal is the first one covering the modernisation of EU copyright rules proposed in the Digital Single Market’s plan, and it targets a very common and – from a consumer perspective – annoying practice. Indeed it puts an end to the “geo-blocking” systems, which are used to restrict access based on your location, to prevent online content like TV shows and movies from being streamed in territories where they haven’t been licensed.

This means in a few words that Europeans will soon be able to “fully use their online subscriptions to films, sports events, e-books, video games or music services when travelling within the EU”, as announced by the European Commission last week. Subscription services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video fall under the new regulation, and will be available no matter where a subscriber will be in the European Union.

Commissioners welcome

“Today’s agreement will bring concrete benefits to Europeans”, Vice-President in charge of the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said last week. “People who have subscribed to their favourite series, music and sports events at home will be able to enjoy them when they travel in Europe. This is a new important step in breaking down barriers in the Digital Single Market”, he also declared.

Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, in charge of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, also welcomed the agreement: “Digital technologies provide new opportunities to enjoy cultural content on the go, and people are eager to use them. Today’s agreement opens new doors to citizens while at the same time protecting creators and those investing in the production of cultural or sport content”. The EU has also published a sort of fact sheet guideline for the new rules.

Huge impact

The European Commission first announced a proposal for a Regulation “to broaden access to online content for travelers in the EU”, and so to provide end-consumers with an easier access to online services while on a different countries, in December 2015. It was the first legal proposal of the Digital Single market strategy, which was completed in September 2016 as a plan. The proposal is expected to have a huge impact on many aspects, from business (the European Commission believes that the move will have positive effects “on competitiveness as it will help innovation in online content services and attract more consumers to them”, as officially stated in the Proposal), and obviously on the citizens’ everyday life.

Sources by the Commission revealed that, in 2016, 64% of Europeans used the internet to play or download games, images, films or music, and that they did it increasingly through mobile devices. A survey carried out by the EU in 2015 showed that one in three Europeans wanted cross-border portability and that half of people aged between 15 and 39 years old thought that portability and accessing the service they subscribe to when travelling in Europe is important.

Some discontent

The move has also faced significant opposition though. The Motion Picture Association of America and other media producers reportedly expressed concerned that the new portability rule would ultimately prevent them from deciding where to license content and to have a region-by-region approach when going to market. The Independent Film & Television Alliance also criticized the EU’s plan, arguing that Brussels’ push for a Digital Single Market would “severely limit producers’ and distributors’ ability to structure and finance production within and outside of Europe”, as declared last autumn.

The final draft of the new legislation is expected be completed by April this year and, once adopted, the new rules are set to come into force in all EU Member States by the beginning of 2018. The Portability Regulation will need final approval from the European Parliament and Council of the EU, but it seems that the current agreement is already advanced. After the GO is formalized, service providers will have 9 months to comply with the rule change.

The agreement is for sure a good news for e-consumers across the bloc and, despite probably not being a real revolution, surely represents a reduction in borders at a moment where building walls seem to be the most common thing to do.

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