Available to All, Produced By Few: The Economic and Cultural Impact of Europe’s Digital Single Market Strategy Within The Audiovisual Industry

Weiss, Charles A.

Currently, Europeans traveling abroad confront frustrations when trying to access their subscriptions to Internet streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Often, their attempts to access a movie or show are met with a message stating something along the lines of: “We are sorry. This content is not available in your country or territory.” In the vernacular of the audiovisual industry, their content is “geo-blocked” in that nation. This is due to the fact that, under the European Union’s current regulatory framework, producers of audiovisual content finance and distribute their shows in a system based on territorial exclusivity. Territorial exclusivity entails selling exclusive broadcast rights for audiovisual content to specific broadcasters and online platforms on a territory-by-territory or country-by-country basis. However, this may all be changing soon for the European Union. In May 2015, the European Commission announced its plan for a Digital Single Market, a multifaceted proposal aiming to tear down regulatory and geo-blocking walls between the European Union’s Member States and to create a single, pan-European online market. This Note explores the potential financial and cultural implications of this DSM strategy for the film and television industries in the European Union and the United States. The benefits of a pan-European territory for audiovisual content distribution rights will be immediately clear to consumers.Cross-border portability and availability of subscriptions, movies, and shows will likely be applauded. However, this Note suggests the potential costs of such a unification effort, although less immediately evident, may be substantial. In particular, cultural diversity within the European Union and the ability of smaller nations’ audiovisual industry players to compete may suffer if the costs of production and distribution increase to a pan-European scale. Throughout the growth and development of the European Union, there has been a struggle between concerns for harmonization and unification among the Member States and concerns for the preservation of unique cultural identities and diversity. The debate over the DSM is a microcosm of this balancing act, the latest chapter of an ongoing tension to define to what lengths the EU should go in unifying its Members. The European Commission’s ultimate determination of how to enact the DSM will signal how they currently prioritize these competing considerations.

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November 20, 2019