As I reported last Monday, the new EU streaming media regulations came into effect at the start of April. These require paid-for streaming services to continue to provide access to people who are temporarily away from their home member states in other EU member states. In other words, if you’re away from your home in the UK on holiday or on business for less than 30 days, you should still be able to watch Netflix in France, Germany, et al.
The operative words there are ‘paid for’ and ‘should’, since free services don’t have to comply with these regulations and as with any new regulations, there are usually teething troubles. So I decided to do some actual science to work out which ones worked and which ones didn’t.
To test a whole bunch of both free and paid-for streaming services last week while I was in France, to see whether there were some unexpected failures or even unexpectedly generous free services.
I ran the tests on an iPad and a Roku Streaming Stick with the correct UK streaming apps/channels installed and pre-configured. Internet access using UK cellular roaming and a French MiFi gadget using a French SIM were both tested.
Worked first time, every time
Didn’t work at first, but then started working for some reason
Worked once and then never worked again
Didn’t work not ever
So that means pretty much everything was as expected – everyone’s in compliance and everyone who doesn’t have to comply isn’t bothering to.
Let everyone know in the comments below if there are other services you’d like me to try the next time I’m away, or if you’ve had greater/less success on your own travels with the same or other services.
Since TMINE is about to head off on holiday to France for a bit of a break, it seems appropriate to let y’all know of an exciting development. A little while ago, I pointed out how silly it was that thanks to the arcane nature of licensing agreements, I couldn’t watch while I was in Germany Babylon Berlin, a Sky Deutschland production licensed to Sky Atlantic in the UK. I had UK viewing rights, I was in Germany, but I couldn’t watch it.
However, delightful regular reader Adam Bowie pointed out in the comments that thanks to the European Commission, that situation was about to change and soon I’d be able to watch UK services abroad.
When is this glorious future set to arrive? Why, children, it’s already here! As of yesterday, the EU’s nascent digital single market introduced a new rule for streaming services: provided someone’s not actually upped-sticks and permanently moved to another EU country, they should be entitled to view all the things they can view at home in said country – without additional charges.
Sky has already emailed me to confirm it’s signed up to the rule:
In practice, this means that provided you’re not away from home for more than 30 days and you’re in an EU country, you should be able to watch Sky, Netflix, Amazon et al without being blocked. I”m not sure about Amazon, since it doesn’t seem to have updated its site, but I’ll test it and other services if I can this week. And if you’re on holiday or working in the EU this week and get a chance to test some services, let us know below which ones worked!
There are two things to consider here:
Paradoxically, the rule only applies to services for which you pay. That means Now TV, for example, is in that et al of services I listed above. But free services aren’t included in the rule, so at the moment, the likes of iPlayer and All 4 are definitely not covered. If they do end up offering services abroad, you might end up paying for the privilege, too.
You’ve got almost exactly a year to enjoy this freedom before Brexit kicks in, after which we’re out both the EU and the single market, so the rule will no longer apply. Of course, companies may choose to continue as before and given Theresa May’s currently Brexit plan consists of “let’s keep being in the EU until we’ve worked out what we actually want from this Brexit thing, because no one has a clue at the moment”, if we agree a transition agreement, we might still be in the single market for another year or so, in which case the rule will still apply.
If you want to know more, ironically (given Sky doesn’t want to say much about why it’s being so generous), The Sun actually has one of the best summaries of the whole situation and why it’s happening. I’m thinking their tech writers might be a bit younger than some of the other writers…
On the face of it, ‘licensing’ is probably a good thing. I’m not talking about alcohol here, BTW – licensing in the creative industry refers to handing over a chunk of money to the ‘rights holder’ (the person or company that made something) so that someone else can use it.
Why is licensing good, on the whole? Well, consider a piece of music that a TV company wants to use in a TV programme. Without licensing, the music writer would essentially have to sign over the music to the TV company, either for free or for an arranged sum. After that, they’d never be able to make money from the music again and might not even be able to play it themselves.
But with licensing, the music maker not only keeps the rights to the music, they can also let others use it, including the TV company. How much? This is the important bit. The amount depends on when, where and for how long the company intends to use it.
Plan on using it once in a TV programme that’s only going to be shown in the Ukraine? You pay x. Plan on showing it on satellite TV in just the UK and Ireland for the next six months? You pay a bit more – 15x, say. Plan on using it in a TV programme that’s going to air once a minute all over the world for the rest of time, as well as on DVD? You pay 1,000,000x, say.
Without licensing, the music owner wouldn’t have the opportunity to profit from their work in this way and the TV company might not be able to afford to use the music and would have to use something else instead.
If you cock up in the licensing, weird things happen. In the US, the theme tune for House was Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’; but here and in many other countries, licensing issues meant it was one of two pieces of stock music, depending on where you lived:
Equally, the makers of classic 70s US sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati never expected their show would end up on DVDs, streaming services et al so didn’t license the soundtrack for such uses; they also only licensed the music for a limited time, to reduce costs. Oops – double oops, given that the show was set in a radio station so featured groups of the time including The Grateful Dead and the Cars.
That meant that after the original licences expired, re-runs in syndication stopped altogether, until 20th Century Fox replaced all the hits with stock music instead, which is how the show aired for the next few decades. It wasn’t until some painstaking licensing work by Sound! Factory that the show got its original soundtrack back for its 2014 DVD release.
A few decades on, keeping track of licensing in this multinational, multi-channel, web-enabled world is tricky. It’s therefore far easier to impose blanket rules rather than try to do everything case-by-case.
Take Babylon Berlin. That’s a German TV show made by Sky Deutschland. Sky Deutschland is a subsidiary of News International, which also owns BSkyB, which has licensed Babylon Berlin for its Sky Atlantic channel.
And yet… there I was in Germany this weekend when I thought I might try watching the second season, using BSkyB’s Sky Go app. Here’s the message I got:
That’s right, even though I was in Germany, trying to watch a German TV programme made by (more or less) the same company as made the app and airs the show in the UK, I couldn’t. Why? Well, BSkyBgenerally only buys licences covering the UK and Ireland, as it’s cheaper for them than if they tried to buy the worldwide rights. But it does mean they have to be strict about not allowing anyone outside the UK and Ireland from viewing their content, even if it’s one of their customers simply trying to watch a show they could normally watch at home.
Of course, if I’d downloaded Babylon Berlinbefore I left the UK, I’d still be able to watch it in Germany. And if the hotel where I’d been staying had had anything except Das Erste and ZDF, I could have watched Babylon Berlin on Sky Deutschland no trouble.
All of which makes me think that maybe there needs to be a bit more flexibility, at least when it comes to Sky Go – seriously, Sky, you own most of the world’s TV channels, so could you maybe just add a database to Sky Go that checks to see if a local Sky channel has the rights to a show, too? Surely that couldn’t be too hard.