EU Starts Geo-Blocking Antitrust Case Against U.S Movie Studios

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The European Union has today launched an antitrust investigation against several large U.S. movie studios and Sky UK. The European Commission wants to abolish geographical restrictions and has sent a statement of objections over the geo-blocking practices of six major US film studios including Disney, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros.

europe-flagDue to complicated licensing agreements many movies and TV-series are only available online in a few selected countries, often for a limited period.

The movie studios often restrict broadcasters and streaming services to make content widely available, a practice which the European Commission wants to stop.

Today the European Commission sent a statement of objections to Sky UK and six large US film studios: Disney, NBCUniversal, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros.

The Commission believes that the geo-restrictions the parties agreed upon are violating EU competition rules.

“European consumers want to watch the pay-TV channels of their choice regardless of where they live or travel in the EU,” says Margrethe Vestager, EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy.

“Our investigation shows that they cannot do this today, also because licensing agreements between the major film studios and Sky UK do not allow consumers in other EU countries to access Sky’s UK and Irish pay-TV services, via satellite or online.”

Under European rules consumers should be able to access the services of Sky and other service providers regardless of where they are located. At the moment, most online services block access to content based on the country people are located, something Sky and the movie studios also agreed on.

The geo-blocking practices are a thorn in the side of the European Commission who now hope to abolish these restrictions altogether.

In parallel to the antitrust investigation the EU’s governing body adopted the new Digital Single Market Strategy earlier this year. One of the main pillars of the new strategy is to provide consumers and businesses with better access to digital goods and services.

The Commission plans “to end unjustified geo-blocking,” which it describes as “a discriminatory practice used for commercial reasons.”

“I want to see every consumer getting the best deals and every business accessing the widest market – wherever they are in Europe,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at the time.

Sky UK and the six major studios will now have to respond to the concerns. The current statement of objections is only the start of the antitrust investigation, a final decision will take at least several months.


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