Geo-blocking of content could be against EU law
The European Commission has said that agreements between movie companies, sports bodies and broadcasters that prevent content being shown in certain countries may fall foul of European competition law.
The organisation published the results of a survey that showed that up to three-quarters of movies, TV series and sports events are geo-blocked as part of a carve-up between the EU's 28 member states.
The Commission said that in some cases this could breach European law.
The policy-making body is currently investigating whether geo-blocking prevents fair competition and distorts the market for physical and digital goods. Digital geo-blocking typically occurs when an online film or sports event is blocked to users because of the country they are accessing it from.
"Not only does geo-blocking frequently prevent European consumers from buying goods and digital content online from another EU country, but some of that geo-blocking is the result of restrictions in agreements between suppliers and distributors," said Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner in charge of competition policy.
She added: "Where a non-dominant company decides unilaterally not to sell abroad, that is not an issue for competition law. But where geo-blocking occurs due to agreements, we need to take a close look [at] whether there is anti-competitive behaviour."
The Commission's investigation could result in multinational TV and film producers, as well as major sports organisations and broadcasters, being forced to change the way they license content across the EU.
It could also increase access to film, TV and sports content for people in Ireland, particularly content that is blocked for anti-competitive reasons.
However, copyright holders say that geo-blocking is an important part of their commercial model as it allows them to control and maximise revenues for expensively produced content.
Organisations such as Uefa and the English Premier League are likely to resist any changes to current practices.
The Commission's investigation has so far focused on 1,400 retailers and digital content providers across the EU.
Up to 50pc of respondents "strongly agree" that geo-blocking and other geographically based restrictions represent "significant obstacles" to Europe's single market.
Sky is to make some live sport available to all of its TV customers at no extra cost.
The British broadcaster is adding a new sports channel that will show some Premier League and GAA games as well as live golf from the US and Europe.
Sky Sports Mix will be available to 17 million viewers in the UK and Ireland and will also broadcast a host of live women's sport including rugby and golf.