I recently wrote a blog about this, saying it was one of the most controversial parts of the entire Digital Single Market project. That was no exaggeration.
While the copyright reform has grabbed a lot of headlines, another law is now being negotiated which is perhaps less known but just as important: the Cable and Satellite Regulation, or 'CabSat' as some call it. This relates to broadcasters, who play a key role in informing, entertaining and educating.
More and more, they broadcast online. But their programmes are often unavailable in other EU countries, even if there is strong public demand.
In Germany, out of 316 established TV channels, only one is available in Spain and 3 in Sweden.
In Poland, out of 122 TV channels, only two are available in Denmark or Italy. Some broadcasters' online services are blocked entirely.
The CabSat rules need urgent updating - in the case of retransmissions, for example, to include technologies other than cable, like internet TV (IPTV). They affect – directly and daily - many millions of viewers who move between EU countries and want to watch online TV programmes.
This really matters to people, and we should not be surprised. One in five Europeans wants to watch online material from other countries than the one where the broadcast material originated.
But the reality is that 67% of all films are only shown in one country.
These rules are the key to making sure that Europeans can access the cultural content that they want and deserve.
They are the key to unlocking the mass of cultural masterpieces that are closed away in broadcasting archives. We should not have rules that prevent access to them.
But what Europe has today is a situation of cultural lock-in. That can change – if we remove that straitjacket and improve access to online TV content across country borders.
It is even more important for future generations: two-thirds of young people use the internet to watch TV series and films online several times per week.
But online TV remains predominantly locked inside one country.
This is about children too
The CabSat negotiation is highly technical and peppered with legal complexities.
Our bottom line: to make licensing easier for broadcasters to make content available to people wherever they are in the EU.
With licensing, you pay the creators to be able to broadcast their works.
So it is not about free access, or about destroying business models for film producers or musicians. But it is about getting access to cultural content without pulling the rug out from under Europe's creative sector and culture.
And access is not a crime – in fact, the opposite.
It promotes our cultural diversity.
There is a huge potential audience, especially from younger people.
Europe is home to 55 million speakers of regional and minority languages, and to at least 20 million people who were born in a different EU country to the one where they are now resident.
Many of them have children who want to tap into, or reconnect with, their parents' home culture.
Let's also remember that children's films generate enormous cross-border viewing demand, often more than football. And think of a family going on holiday – who is likely to be online most? The kids.
Let me briefly explain the two basic principles that are involved in the CabSat negotiations.
Firstly, country of origin:
When a national TV broadcaster clears the rights for in-house productions – films, variety shows, documentaries, children's programmes - or for news or political debate programmes, they can allow access to this material when broadcast online in their internet player services from across the EU.
We calculate that our proposals can free up to 90%, or more, of the content held by national public broadcasters. Today, on different online iPlayers, you might access up to 5% of content, perhaps 15% at best. The rest is geo-blocked.
But if you only clear rights in one EU country and then show the material to people in the other 27, how can you then sell in any other market in the EU? What about value of rights?
This is a fair point - and the reason why we have made this a free choice for the broadcasters. They can decide whether, and where, to make their own-produced material available in different EU countries.
We give them the possibility to do this with easier licensing – but with no obligation. This gives legal certainty and sets clear boundaries for broadcasters when it comes to online access.
Now, the second principle – programme retransmissions.
This is important because it allows distributors, such as cable operators, to offer foreign channels on your cable box. But have you noticed that you don’t have the same channels or services on your Ipad?
This is because the CabSat Regulation has not yet been updated to reflect digital reality.
The industry trend seems to be that while operators provide smaller channels, these are increasingly made available via their IPTV service or the open internet: on your tablet. EU rules today do not facilitate licensing – or provide the same rules for all means of transmission, but only for cable.
That's why we should update them urgently.
If not, viewer prospects are not good. One public channel I spoke to said it would lose two million viewers in Poland because operators would not carry it on the set-top box - only on the mobile service.
How is that good for EU cultural diversity?
Last negotiating hurdle
We are now moving into the final stages of CabSat negotiations with the EU's other main institutions, the European Parliament and Council (representing all EU governments), with a view to a final deal.
Frankly, I am concerned.
What worries me most is there may not be enough political will to find a compromise – which would mean that many millions of viewers, our media industry as well as European culture in general, lose out from the massive cross-border potential of the single market.
It is urgent to update this law – the original one dates from 1993 - so that it reflects digital reality. People, especially younger people, have waited too long. In the meantime, business and industry are losing out.
That's not even to mention what we could be doing to spread the rich diversity of European culture to new audiences.
These are all reasons why I do not intend to back down from our proposal. It is not going away and to be honest, it would be far better for everyone to reach a deal now, while the European Parliament is still in its current form, rather than let things slide until after the European elections in May.
However, I believe that agreement is still possible – provided there is enough political willpower and flexibility to make copyright law work for Europe.
Soon, everyone should enjoy better choice and access to online culture and content between countries.
The culture that they deserve. Another blog soon.