If you have ever tried to access digital content while outside of your home country, you will know how frustrating it can be when you are met with a message saying the content is not available in your area. This can also be massively restrictive in the business world where the digital arena provides massive opportunities for the European business community, which are not being fully realised because of individual country restrictions.
There is a good chance that all of this is set to change, with the EU announcing that the removal of geo-blocking will form part of its Digital Single Market Strategy which is set to be formalised in May.
What is geo-blocking?
Geo-blocking prevents users in one country from accessing content from another country online. This is usually done by the provider as a result of copyright issues, so it is the contract requests of the content rights holders that often cause this to happen. They request these geographical restrictions so that they can maximize the income they make from the content.
So how can the provider identify your physical location? They simply use your IP address. This restricts the content for most people, although it is possible to get around the restrictions by using a VPR (virtual private network). This is the trick that some people outside of the US use to view content on Netflix US, where the movie content is often a lot more up to do date than it is in the rest of the world.
Who will benefit if Geo-blocking is barred by the EU?
The idea behind the proposed changes by the EU is to improve the utilisation of digital content by European businesses. As Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip commented,
“This will be an uphill struggle all the way, but we need an ambitious start. Europe should benefit fully from the digital age: better services, more participation and new jobs”.
If Europe is aiming to exist as an open business zone, then it makes sense that digital content should be accessible from anywhere across the continent.
Of course, the individual user will also benefit greatly, being able to access content no matter where they are across Europe. Currently, people often pay a subscription to view content but cannot access it even if they are only travelling to the next country.
Who will not welcome the changes?
The most obvious people to be against the changes are the producers of content, such as TV show and movie makers, who currently make more money as a result of the restrictions. The EU is also looking at introducing changes to copyright laws which would mean they provide more benefit to the user. This move is also unlikely to be welcomed by content creators.
The move to remove geo-blocking will also cause problems for providers. The situation is especially complicated in the case of the BBC. Its content is universally popular and is also funded by British licence payers and not advertising. Opening access the iPlayer service creates many issues, which may lead to a separate entity with advertising, run by BBC Worldwide. Of course, this would create a huge financial headache for the BBC with having to pay out additional running costs, such as investing in a European wide delivery network.
Netflix, which provides a service in the UK, but not throughout Europe would be faced with additional licensing costs for content in additional countries. Although Netflix is a US based provider so the EU would have no real enforcement power over its content.
One thing is for sure the changes would prove more costly for providers such as the BBC, Netflix and Sky, and they would greatly restrict the number of people who would be interested in signing contracts to provide content such as the Premier League. Exactly how much this would affect the availability of such content remains to be seen, but in the years to come it seems certain that the EU is set on revolutionising the availability of digital content across the European Community.