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It is quite unusual for the worlds of competition law and Hollywood films to intersect (although we would definitely recommend "The Informant" with Matt Damon). However, this week the European Commission announced that it had opened an investigation into certain provisions in licensing agreements between several major US film studios (including Twentieth Century Fox and NBC) and European pay-TV broadcasters (including BSkyB and Canal Plus).
Specifically, the Commission will examine whether restrictions that prevent pay-TV broadcasters from providing their services across borders, for example by refusing to sign up potential subscribers from other Member States or blocking cross-border access to their services, are anti-competitive. The investigation covers satellite and online retail distribution.
The Commission's antitrust chief, Joaquin Almunia, believes that contracts giving absolute territorial protection to pay-TV broadcasters insulate them from cross border competition and potentially fall foul of EU law. From a streaming perspective this would no doubt include concerns over the geo-blocking of particular programmes depending on which country in the European Union a consumer is watching the content.
This investigation is in part a result of the Murphy/QC Leisure football decoder cases which looked at similar free movement and competition law issues. The Commission may in time enter into settlement negotiations with the parties concerned. This may open the way for consumers to watch movies that they subscribe to in one Member State whilst in another Member State, or alternatively subscribe to a pay-TV service outside of their territory.
In an age when internet streaming is entering the mainstream, this may be an important investigation to further liberalise the way people view Hollywood blockbusters throughout the European Union.