BT Group, ProSiebenSat. 1, the English Premier League and various lobby groups representing consumers, producers and independent filmmakers have been granted the status of “interested parties”, enabling them to provide input into the European Commission’s (the Commission) investigation into the distribution of certain Hollywood film rights. The Commission is able to grant this status to undertakings and associations that may be impacted by their investigation.
The Commission began the film rights investigation in January 2014, on the suspicion that bilateral agreements between Hollywood studios and a UK premium broadcaster may prevent consumers based in other EU countries from viewing internet and television content that is readily available in the UK and Ireland – a practice known as “geoblocking”. In July 2015, the Commission filed formal antitrust charges against the parties under investigation on the grounds that, without these restrictions, the broadcaster would be free to decide on commercial grounds whether to provide its services to EU consumers outside the UK and Ireland.
It is understood that the parties have now responded to these allegations and representations are due to be made at a closed-door hearing in January 2016, at which officials from a number of Commission departments, national regulators and the interested parties will be present.
Beuc, a European consumer interest group, has confirmed its status as an interested party and its support of the Commission's "crucial effort" to break down "artificial walls restricting competition". In contrast, the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, a lobby group for UK independent film makers, released a statement via its chief executive noting that its members are “concerned that the commercial and contractual freedom that UK producers currently enjoy, to ensure that they can continue to invest in original UK TV and film works, would be determinately affected by any restrictions on their rights to sell their programs by territory”.
The Commission has made it one of its key priorities to break down any national barriers to the movement of digital content, therefore commentators believe that it is likely that the Commission will adopt a tough stance on geoblocking in its Hollywood film rights investigation.