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Hollywood’s content geo-blocking draws attention of antitrust regulators

Ars Technica - Glyn Moody - The European Commission is planning to send a "statement of objection"—the first step towards a formal antitrust investigation—to top Hollywood studios and European pay-TV companies over their licensing deals, according to a report on Bloomberg. The concern is a familiar one: that film studios are making deals with distribution companies that carve up the EU into smaller local markets, which prevents people in some European countries from viewing films and TV programmes as soon as they are released, and which goes against the idea of the Single Market.

As Bloomberg notes, this is a continuation of a probe last year into how contracts with EU broadcasters, including UK-based Sky and its German and Italian units, limit the sale of films and TV programmes by geography. It ties in with the European Commission's antitrust competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector in the EU, which was launched in May, and includes digital content. Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said at the time: "we will not hesitate to take enforcement action under EU antitrust rules."

The planned statement of objection also fits in with one of the main goals of the European Commission's new Digital Single Market strategy, released last month, which is to tackle territorial restrictions and geo-blocking. The accompanying analysis and evidence document notes: "in May 2011, about 35% of broadcasters offering long-form video content on their websites (e.g. through catch-up TV services) used geo-localisation to restrict access to certain types of content, especially US content, international sports and music events."