By Eoin Harmon
It’s been a few years since European analogue television services were dismantled and turned off in place of digital services. You probably remember it wasn’t the easiest transplant to implement Saorview, but we came out the other end reasonably intact.
Are the European Union going to attempt something similar with the online market? The latest announcement was made last week, and has been declared the ‘European Single Digital Market’. With most of the tech giants hailing from North America, Europe cannot expect miracles to happen without taking action.
Buying and selling online has been established for many years, with people all around the world utilising ecommerce sites like eBay and Amazon. A major deterrent, particularly with deals made within two different EU countries, is that VAT and delivery costs can end up costing more than the value of the goods being bought. If a Single Digital Market was created, then it should be possible to keep these costs reasonable for all involved.
A subject close to my heart is the inability to watch on demand content from different countries, particularly the popular BBC iPlayer. Irish people have to pay their licence fees to RTÉ, but can still readily access BBC content on their televisions.
However, the iPlayer remains geo-blocked to anyone outside of the United Kingdom. The RTÉ Player recently established a paywall for international audiences, which would be a workable short-term solution in my opinion. The Single Digital Market seeks to abolish geo-blocking within member states, which would also extend to music and movie streaming.
Unfortunately, the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger, made his announcement before the UK General Election. The unpredicted outcome of a Conservative Party majority bears massive consequences for any continued British involvement in the European Union.
The Tories promised to hold a referendum on EU membership in their campaign to remain in power. Now that they have a mandate to govern again, this referendum is guaranteed to happen, unless Prime Minister David Cameron can secure all of his country’s demands.
The licence fee is a contentious issue in Britain as well as in Ireland, so the PM may wish to protect the BBC from surrendering their geo-blocking abilities.
Regardless of the fate of Britain in the EU, the Irish Government should welcome the plans for a Single Digital Market. We may not openly seek out digital broadcasts from all of our European neighbours, but the ecommerce side ought to appeal for people who like to import goods from within the EU.
One thing is for sure, the EU cannot continue to sit idly by and watch the current multinationals race away with the online revenue streams.