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EU Approves Cross-Border Content Streaming

Move will allow residents to access paid services like Netflix in other member countries

May 19, 2017

EU residents with paid subscriptions for online content services like Netflix will soon be able to access that content while in other member countries, thanks to new regulations approved by the European Parliament this week.

First proposed in late 2015, the update to the European Commission’s regulations on cross-border portability of online content services will allow EU residents to access a number of services they have paid to access in their home country when in another member country for a short period of time. (The regulation does not define how long a “limited period of time” is under the rule.)

Among the services affected by the rule are video-on-demand (VOD) platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime; streaming audio services like Spotify and Deezer; ebook services; and sporting events and other TV broadcasts.

The regulations, expected to go into effect in early 2018, are part of the European Commission’s wider Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy that seeks to “open up digital opportunities for people and business and enhance Europe’s position as a world leader in the digital economy.”

The cross-border content regulations dovetail with another DSM-related effort: a ban on mobile roaming charges for EU citizens traveling within the EU that goes into effect June 15. That change is expected to spur even greater use of online content services, and as a result increase consumer demand for their cross-border portability.

According to Digital TV Research Limited, there were more than 30 million VOD subscribers in Western Europe alone in 2016—a figure expected to surpass 55 million by 2021.

Subscription Video-on-Demand (SVOD) Subscribers in Western Europe, 2015, 2016 & 2021 (millions)

VOD revenues in Europe totaled $5.8 billion in 2016, according to Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

eMarketer estimates 51.8% of residents in Western Europe will be digital video viewers this year, as will 42.4% of those living in Central and Eastern Europe. European Commission data shows 64% of EU residents ages 16 to 74 had used the internet for playing or downloading games, images films or music in 2016.

In addition to improving consumer convenience, the EU rules are aimed at promoting the use of legally acquired content and cutting back on the use of technical workarounds such as virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass territorial restrictions on content.

“The new rules increase mobility and successfully offer portability to users of European online content without affecting copyright,” said Jean-Marie Cavada, the European Parliament minister responsible for shepherding the legislation through to this week’s vote.

In order to avoid breaking copyright covenants, which are often assigned to content services on a country-by-country basis, rights holders can require content services to take “effective and reasonable” measures to verify that a subscriber has not permanently moved to another EU country.

While the new rules only apply to fee-based services, providers of free content services, such as national broadcasters’ catch-up TV tools, can also make their content portable across the EU, as long as they comply with the residency check requirements.

Cliff Annicelli

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