The start of this month introduced a major change for the way you watch your favourite shows when travelling across Europe.
What is it?
The Regulation on the Portability of Online Content Services is the new EU law that enforces portability within the EU for subscription services.
The objective of the portability rules is to broaden access to online content services for travellers in the EU. Europeans will be able to fully use their online subscriptions to films, sports events, eBooks, video games and music services when travelling within the EU. In 2016, 64% of Europeans used the internet to play or download games, images, films or music. They did it increasingly through mobile devices. In a survey carried out in 2015, one in three Europeans wanted cross-border portability.
What does it mean for people in the UK?
It means Brits can go overseas and still access the media on any platform they’ve subscribed to. Previously, for example, if you went to France on holiday, you could only access the French version of Netflix. Now, the new EU legislation means that you can still access the Netflix UK catalogue in France or any other EU country.
What platforms does EU portability affect?
These rules apply to any subscription streaming service you use, from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to Sky Go, NOW TV, Spotify, Steam, and so on.
Does it include sports?
Yes, various online sports content services will be covered: where sports are part of TV or radio programme available online, where sports are part of the overall online service package, the main feature of which is the provision of works protected by copyright or related rights (e.g. films and series), but also where a sports organiser sets up a dedicated online content service.
What do I have to do?
You shouldn’t have to do anything to access your normal catalogue of content, because the service has already registered your home country. This will be using a customer’s country of residence on the basis of information such as payment details, payment of a licence fee for broadcasting services, the existence of a contract for internet or telephone connection, IP checks or the subscriber’s declaration about his or her address.
Do I have to pay extra?
No, the rules forbid online streaming services from charging more for the cross-border portability.
Does it include BBC iPlayer?
Unfortunately, the rules do not include BBC iPlayer, which is still not available to UK travellers within the EU. The same also applies to any music or media services that are offered for free.
“We are interested in being able to allow UK licence fee payers to access BBC iPlayer while they are on holiday, and welcome the EU regulation to help make this feasible,” the BBC has said in a statement. “There are complex technical issues to resolve which we are investigating and it will be dependent on what legislation is in effect in the UK in the future.”
Will this change after Brexit?
Yes. UK subscribers can only benefit from the new portability rules while the country is part of the EU. That means that when Brexit happens – at the time of writing, this will be after March 2019, but may be included in a transition period and last until 2021 – the rule will not apply to BRits, which means you will no longer be able to access the UK version of Netflix or Amazon Prime Video overseas.
On the plus side, all the Netflix originals and Amazon Prime Video originals that are available on the platforms worldwide will still be watchable regardless. BBC iPlayer, meanwhile, is not currently available outside of the UK anyway, so there won’t be any change there either.
On the downside, the same applies to the EU rules introduced recently that have stopped inflated roaming charges for Brits abroad – when the UK leaves the EU, you will also once again rack up more expensive data costs for streaming video abroad.