Cropped engraving of Doctor Renzo forbidding Sancho to eat.

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Yesterday, the European Parliament voted against a review of the geo-blocking rules for audiovisual (AV) content. Parliament adopted an IMCO own-initiative report on the implementation of the 2018 Geo-blocking Regulation, but also passed a number of amendments to effectively exclude AV content from the scope of a review. While the result isn’t binding, this is a blow for European citizens who will continue to be left with no access to most audiovisual content produced on the continent as long as the carve-out for AV content from the prohibition of geo-blocking is upheld.

We have vocally supported a review of the geo-blocking rules for AV content. However, a majority of MEPs gave in to a campaign by an AV industry coalition that relied on unfounded claims and fearmongering. Industry claimed that a reform of the geo-blocking rules would threaten 15 million creative sector jobs and 4.4% of the EU’s GDP. These numbers have no basis in fact, as we explained in a previous blogspot. First, there are various ways to maintain the current territorial financing model (allowing passive sales or introducing curtain periods for example). Second, no independent economic impact assessment has been carried out yet, which would be the basis for any legislative initiative. According to the campaign, the abolition of geo-blocking would also lead to less diversity and less content being produced in fewer languages – an extremely hypothetical construction with, again, no basis in fact.

The industry campaign was so effective that Parliament even removed § 25 from the report that would have expounded the problem of geo-blocking of content that is “funded or co-funded” by the EU. One would believe that the demand that “whenever EU funds are involved in the financing of audiovisual content, no EU citizen should be deprived access to it” is a fairly uncontroversial one. But not for the AV industry, which is happy to accept public funding and still wants to call all the shots on distribution.

If we don’t see a reform of the geo-blocking rules for audiovisual content, European consumers will continue to be locked out from content that they would be willing to pay for if it isn’t licensed in their country of residence. As the Commission’s first short-term review showed, consumers in the smaller markets are most affected by the current regime. While European consumers on average have access to only 14% of the films available on line in the EU (p. 10), consumers in Greece, for example, only have access to 1.3% of all the titles in all Member States (p. 68 of Staff Working Document part two).

The result is a frustrating reminder that overblown statistics and other baseless claims remain an effective lobbying tool in Brussels. So what should happen next? COMMUNIA has been a constructive participant in the European Commission’s stakeholder dialogue where a number of options have been explored to abolish geo-blocking without harming the territorial financing model of the AV industry. These include proposals from stakeholders (including from us) for pilot projects to make publicly funded content available on a European media platform upon expiry of a curtain period against remuneration. The next Commission should take the initiative and implement such a pilot project to assess the economic and social impact of a gradual fade-out of geo-blocking for audiovisual content.

King Charles II of England addresses members of the Estates General, 1660, Theodor Matham, after Jacob Toorenvliet, 1660
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