Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Europe's Geoblocking Decision: What You Need to Know

On Tuesday the European Commission published proposals that concern how audiovisual content is presented to citizens of the bloc. Chief among recommendations was to force video-on-demand providers, such as Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc.’s iTunes, to dedicate at least a fifth of their catalogs to European works.

Large numbers of questions and answers are raised or addressed in the extensive documentation that comes with them.

1: Does today’s proposal address geo-blocking?

Yes and no. It was previously believed the EU regulator wanted to “unblock the geo-blocks,” which would in theory have prevented companies from blocking access to their services if a user was accessing them from outside an “approved” area. The BBC’s state-funded iPlayer, officially unusable outside of the U.K., could have been affected by such a proposal, but this is not something the watchdog is addressing as part of its announcements today.

2: Are these companies going to be happy about that?

It depends who you ask. “Our members around the world love European programming, that’s why our investment in European programming, including Netflix original titles created in Europe, is growing,” said Joris Evers, a spokesman at Netflix. “We appreciate the Commission's objective to have European production flourish. However, the proposed measures won't actually achieve that.”

Other groups have worded their responses more strongly. “The proposed ‘anti-geo-blocking’ regulation doesn't do what it says on the tin,” said Julia Reda, a member of the European Parliament’s Green group. “When most Europeans hear the term ‘geo-blocking,’ they think of the all-too-common error message that 'this video is not available in your country' — and yet the measures presented today will not do anything to address this. An anti-geo-blocking regulation that does not cover online video content misses the point.”

3: So what geo-blocking is the European Commission addressing today?

Online shopping, essentially. The regulator proposed that online shoppers in the EU should have access to the same products and, crucially, those products at the same prices, regardless of where the buyer is located. This would benefit a shopper, browsing directly to a manufacturer or retailer’s website in the EU, who was presented with a message saying they couldn’t make a purchase because of the country they were accessing the store from. Under the new proposals, such blocks or higher prices imposed by the geographical location of a buyer would be banned.

4: Does that mean the watchdog would force retailers to ship overseas?

No. The draft law wouldn’t force traders to physically deliver products to specific regions. Additionally, the regulator said it’s weighing initiatives for so-called online platforms such as Google and Amazon.

--With assistance from Stephanie Bodoni and Aoife White

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