EU member states agree roaming for Netflix

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Consumers will be able to access their online subscriptions for services like Netflix (NFLX.O), Sky (SKYB.L) and Canal+ (IPO-CANALFRA.PA) when they travel across the European Union under proposals tentatively agreed by member states on Friday.

The law was presented by the EU executive, the European Commission (EC), last December as part of its efforts to knock down national barriers in online services across the 28-member bloc.

Member state representatives endorsed the proposal on Friday, paving the way for it to be approved by ministers when they meet on May 26.

Consumers with subscriptions to services such as Sky TV Now, ProSiebenSat.1MaxDome TV (PSMGn.DE) in Germany or Netflix in France, would be able to view content they have paid for when they temporarily travel abroad.

What constitutes temporarily was left open, but member states specified that it is a “limited amount of time”.

The EC hopes that the proposal will enter into force in 2017, the same year that roaming charges for using mobile phones when traveling within the 28-member European Union are supposed to be abolished.

Knocking down barriers to a single market in both the online and offline worlds is a key aim for Brussels, and letting people take online subscriptions abroad is reminiscent of its efforts to allow use of domestic mobile phone subscriptions abroad without paying hefty roaming charges.

While Netflix is already available in many European countries, content is tailored to local tastes, so a French user in Belgium, for example, will not have access to the specific French catalog without using workarounds such as virtual private networks.

The proposal got a lukewarm reception from broadcasters and in December, some of whom are concerned producers and film studios could demand more money for making their content portable.

Rights-holders are wary of anything that might be seen to be eroding the principle of territoriality, which they say is key to the financing of films.

However their bigger worry is with the Commission’s upcoming reform of EU copyright law which aims to improve people’s access to content in other countries.

Producers and film studios fear domestic license will lose their value if it becomes easier for people to access content abroad. A broadcaster might not be willing to pay as much for an exclusive French license if France residents can buy the same content broadcast in Germany.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Jon Boyle)