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EU moves to allow online streaming without borders

Geoblocking will cease for subscribers to platforms like Netflix and Spotify from 2018

Subscribers to Netflix, Spotify and other online streaming services will be able to access their digital content while abroad from next year. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Subscribers to Netflix, Spotify and other online streaming services will be able to access their digital content while abroad from next year after the European Parliament cleared the way for a new law to ease industry restrictions.

Most consumers are currently unable to watch films or football matches when visiting another country due to geoblocking, which stops users from accessing their subscriptions when outside their country of residence.

Under a new law passed by the parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday, however, those restrictions will be removed, allowing EU citizens to access their music, films, ebooks, games and TV shows while on holiday or travelling for business elsewhere in the bloc. The law is due to take effect in the first half of 2018 and will apply to new and current subscriptions.

Nearly 11 per cent of European households had a subscription to a video-on-demand service last year, with Netflix taking 54 per cent of the market. The overall number is expected to double in the coming years, according to the European Broadcasting Union.

With an end to roaming charges coming into force in mid-June, the numbers of Europeans accessing online subscription services via their mobile devices while abroad is expected to grow sharply.


The new rules will apply only to online fee-based services, although providers of free services also have the option of making them available EU-wide.

“European citizens have been waiting for these new rules, which represent a step towards a common digital market. The new rules increase mobility and successfully offer portability to users of European online content, without affecting copyright”, said Jean-Marie Cavada, the French MEP responsible for steering the new rules through parliament.

Under the new regulations, online content providers must verify the user’s member state of residence by using no more than two “reasonable and proportionate” methods from a list that includes identity card, payment details, location of a decoder, internet contract or IP address.

Service providers will be required to inform customers of the verification methods used and take appropriate security measures to protect their data.

The European Commission first announced proposals in December 2015 to make it easier for consumers to access online services that provide music, games, films and TV shows while in another country.

The commission said at the time that it wanted to see an end to geoblocking by bringing in pan-EU subscriptions and introducing a new regulation to enable cross-border “portability” of digital content.

The draft law will be formally approved by the EU Council of Ministers. Member states will then have nine months to bring the new rules into force.

While Netflix users can currently stream when abroad, the content is not the same as at home and is dependent on the country to which a subscriber is travelling. Free users of Spotify can stream music for only 14 days, but premium users currently have unrestricted access.