Cannes: European Commission Might Still Allow Geo-Blocking for Film, TV

EU commissioner Gunther Oettinger reassures filmmakers in Cannes that Europe will be “careful and cautious” in creating a digital single market.

The European film industry may have dodged a bullet.

Plans by Europe to break down digital borders between countries — plans critics say could cost Europe's indie film industry billions — may be much less damaging than originally feared.

Speaking to THR in Cannes, Gunther Oettinger, the European Commission in charge of the digital economy, said the EU would be “careful and cautious” in creating a digital single market to ensure it didn't threaten the interests of the film industry.

While the commission still wants to scrape geo-blocking, the process by which businesses in one country restrict access to websites or content based in another, Oettinger said it could carve out exceptions for the audio visual industry.

He said the commission did not want to eliminate territory-by-territory licensing, the financial model that typically accounts for a third or more of the financing of a European feature.

Earlier, Anders Kjaerhauge of Zentropa, which has produced features such as the Oscar-nominated A Royal Affair and Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, said without territoriality “we could be in a situation where Zentropa will say ‘can we produce films in the future?’ I may just become a catalogue manager.”

Oettinger said after speaking to European filmmakers that they made “convincing arguments that they need territoriality.”

When it comes to geo-blocking of cultural content, it appears the commission may suggest only that European laws are changed to allow greater portability of digital content throughout the EU, so that consumers who have purchased a film or TV series in one country are able to access it, digitally, in all others.

“If I buy a digital product, if I buy a film or I want to see a [soccer] game and I have bought it in one EU country, I should be able to watch it in another,” Oettinger said.

On another controversial subject, the issue of day-and-date releases, the commission also appears to be taking a cautious approach. Instead of pushing to shrink the windows between when a film is released to theaters and later comes out on VOD, policymakers are carrying out several pilot studies to judge the impact of day-and-date releases on theatrical performance.

“We really have to have evidence before we start making decisions,” a source close to the commission said.