Online video services can now be accessed anywhere in the European Union, providing that you paid for them in a member state. That includes apps from Sky and services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, but not the BBC iPlayer. The implications of Brexit also remain unclear.
From the beginning of April 2018, residents in one European Union country who subscribe to online video services should be able to access them when they travel or stay temporarily in another European Union member state. Service providers will be able to offer cross-border content portability without having to acquire licences for other territories where subscribers stay temporarily.
The rules will apply to paid-for services, but providers of free services may also opt in, although so far it seems few have chosen to do so.
An announcement from the European Commission said: “Reaching an agreement on portability is a great result of close collaboration between the EU institutions and European companies and stakeholders; and we have full confidence that broadcasters and platforms will take this as an opportunity to enhance the user experience. Today we have taken another concrete step towards building a true Digital Single Market and a united European digital society, accessible for all our citizens and profitable for our businesses.”
Providers of paid-for online content services, such as movie, television or music streaming services, will have to provide their subscribers with the same service whenever the subscriber is in the European Union. Service providers are not obliged to offer access to content which is available in the country to which subscribers travel.
The portability of content covers subscribers who are temporarily abroad, including regular commuters between countries, but the regulations do not define any time limits.
The service provider will have to verify the country of residence of the subscriber by one of a number of means, which could include payment details, including payment of a licence fee for broadcasting services, or simply a customer declaration of their residential address.
Sky has announced that customers resident in the UK and Ireland will be able to watch its programming throughout the European Union using any compatible portable device. Users will need to establish this by viewing programming on a supported device while at home in the previous 37 days. They will then be able to view in territories within the European Union on apps including Sky Go, Sky Q, Sky Sports, Sky Kids and Sky Cinema.
Netflix has said that users will be able to take their home catalogue with them for a limited period of time.
Some smaller public broadcasters have announced that they are opting in to the scheme. That includes YLE in Finland and RTBF in Belgium. British public service broadcasters, including the BBC, have not.
In a statement, the BBC said it was “interested in being able to allow UK licence fee payers to access BBC iPlayer while they are on holiday, and welcome the EU regulation to help make this feasible. There are complex technical issues to resolve which we are investigating, and it will be dependent on what legislation is in effect in the UK in the future.”
That brings us to Brexit, the proposed withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, which is due to come into effect within a year.
The European Commission has said that subject to any transitional arrangement that may be contained in a possible withdrawal agreement, as of the withdrawal date, the European Union rules in the field of copyright will no longer apply to the United Kingdom.
Among these is the online content portability regulation will by default no longer be applicable to the United Kingdom. This means that a provider of online content services established in the United Kingdom will need to comply with the rules of the relevant European Union member state or states where it wishes to offer services to its subscribers, including the need to clear all relevant rights in those states.