Content rights owners should stop complaining and get with the program

The implications of the European Commission's Digital Single Market (DSM) initiative

Since 1992, the European Union has had a European Single Market, enabling an unhindered flow of people, goods and services within Europe. As ever so often, legislation trails behind technical developments. Somehow, the act that takes care of this free-trade agreement has not been applied to digital services. But that is about to change.

The European Commission (EC) has announced plans for a Digital Single Market (DSM). This new initiative aims to harmonize copyright rules, telecommunications practices such as roaming charges and a range of online services. Several major content businesses are already crying wolf. Why? The obvious way to interpret the new regulations is that these will outlaw geoblocking within the EU (something the Commission is downplaying). This would mean these organizations could no longer sell rights on a country-by-country basis. Obviously they're protesting because it's a serious disruption of the status quo: Parties that are large enough to buy the rights on a pan-European scale are hard to find.

There's an elephant in the room here, though. What nobody's mentioning is that there's an eentirely different way for dealing with this: The affected rights holders – think of international sports bodies like FIFA, UEFA, the IOC – can take matters into their own hands and start offering their content directly to consumers. Technology has progressed far enough to make this perfectly feasible. Bandwidth in most European countries is performing well in global rankings.

Sure, they'll need to invest to make this happen but SaaS models that have become available mean that capital expenditure can be avoided almost entirely. Several Premium OTT platforms exist (for instance SeaChange's Rave) that let media companies focus on what they do best and remove the hassle of operations by letting specialized service providers handle these on a white-label basis. Moreover, going direct means these companies can start building actual relationships with their viewers.

The only parties who perhaps should be worried are the (national) broadcasters who have so far been buying these rights. They may have made investments in platforms that are no longer useful. On the other hand, the biggest expense has no doubt been the rights themselves, and this is money they can keep in their pockets or spend on other things.

Of course, the content providers can still strike deals with broadcasters for transmitting events on a country-by-country basis, as broadcasting is inherently bound to geographical areas, but those broadcast deals will have to be separated from any streaming rights.

It's time for the content rights owners to stop whining about the Digital Single Market and get with the times.

Yoeri Geutskens writes about video technology.

A revised version of this piece has appeared here.