EU probe into cross border TV restrictions

Missing your favourite TV programme just because you are out of the country could become a thing of the past as the EU opens an investigation into restrictions.

The big US film studios that produce many of the most popular shows and films license them to be broadcast within each specific country only.

And any attempt to pick them up on your laptop or smartphone once you are abroad is prevented by specific geo-blockers.

Over two years ago the European Court of Justice ruled against licences restricting the broadcasting of Premier League matches on a territorial basis only.

Now the European Commission has announced it is investigating similar arrangements with TV programmes and films, to see if it is in line with EU competition rules.

They are looking specifically on deals with the big US companies — Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros, Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal, Paramount Pictures — and the largest European pay-TV broadcasters — BSkyB of the UK, Canal Plus of France, Sky Italia of Italy, Sky Deutschland of Germany and Spain’s DTS.

Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said they will focus on existing subscribers who for instance may have paid their subscription to a specific channel but cannot watch it while outside their own country.

Ireland and RTÉ is not included in the current investigation which is limited to pay-to-view channels, but Mr Almunia said they would consider complaints about other stations that also prevent viewers watching outside their home country.

The Irish broadcaster has agreements with US programme producers that limit access to within the Republic only while GAA matches can be accessed usually on the whole island.

A study commissioned by the EU showed that up to a third of non-EU fiction programmes on the main channels in the big EU countries were blocked from being viewed outside that country.

Apart from holiday makers, the main groups interested in watching non-local TV programmes were migrants and language learners. As a result Romanian, Lithuanian and Polish stations were in most demand, mainly by their nationals who want to watch programmes on their home channels that are often dubbed or subtitled in their native language.

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