British holidaymakers in Portugal and other EU countries are to get access to BBC iPlayer and Sky Go as the EU make changes copyright rules in plans that have distressed broadcasters.
The BBC is having to allow licence fee payers to access the iPlayer from abroad under new Brussels rules designed to create a single market for digital services.
Providers of subscription internet content including Sky, Netflix and Spotify also will be obliged to allow their viewers to use their services from anywhere in the EU.
The BBC said it would undertake a major technical overhaul of the iPlayer to ensure licence fee payers can log in to watch programmes while non-licence fee payers remain excluded. Currently it simply blocks access to all non-British internet addresses.
A BBC spokesman welcomed the EU’s proposals but said they required further clarification. The broadcaster took the opportunity to increase the pressure on the Government to close the so-called 'iPlayer loophole’ that allows viewers to watch catch-up programming without a television licence.
A spokesman said: “Being able to offer BBC iPlayer depends on the UK Government implementing legislation to modernise the licence fee, something the Government has committed to do next year.
“That will mean users of BBC iPlayer could be verified as UK licence-fee payers while they are on holiday in the EU.”
The Premier League is lobbying against international licensing. Sky said it “will need to consider the plans in detail but we welcome anything that helps customers get even more value from their subscriptions.”
The Sky Go service already requires subscribers to log in but does not currently let them watch programmes abroad.
The new portability rules for digital services were unveiled by the European Commission as the first stage of a wide-ranging overhaul meant to create a large single market better able to serve as a launch pad for internet companies.
Brussels politicians argue that fragmented online markets put European services at a disadvantage compared with US and Chinese players on the global stage.
But elements of the proposals, more details of which are due to be published next year, have prompted serious concerns that the ability of Britain’s successful creative sector to make its investments pay will be undermined.
The European Commission is planning to erode the ability of film, television and music rights holders to sell licences on a country-by-country basis and weaken some copyright protections.
Officials are planning more new rules for next spring that would mean individuals in one EU country could gain the right to subscribe to digital services from any other. The moves are being opposed by rights holders including the major Hollywood studios, who fear it would undermine their ability to stagger releases across territories and charge different prices depending on the level of demand for a film.
John McVay, the chief executive of the independent TV producers’ organisation Pact, warned, “Any intervention that undermines the ability to license on an exclusive territorial basis will lead to less investment in new productions and reduce the quality and range of content available to consumers.”
Netflix is already increasing its international rights deals with in-house commissions such as Better Call Saul.
The Premier League also is opposing the plans, which could undermine the value of live match broadcasting rights in the UK if fans gained the right to subscribe to cheaper foreign coverage. The organisation welcomed the new portability rules but said there were “significant benefits to consumers of selling rights territory by territory”.
The European Commission sought to reassure rights holders that it would not impose pan-European licences for content but said it would encourage licences that allowed more consumers to subscribe across borders.
While rights holders fear the proposals, distributors such as Sky and Netflix could benefit. For instance, Sky could more easily expand its streaming service Now TV to new European countries. Netflix is meanwhile already seeking to acquire licences to more films and television shows on an international basis.
As well as rights holder lobbies, plans for a digital single market face opposition from France, where politicians fear greater access to foreign services will undermine their attempts to protect the French language with content quotas.