Commissioner for Digital Economy Günther Oettinger keynoted the “Digital Single Market: Bridging the gap” event organized on May 3rd by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. Here are 4 highlights from his speech you need to be aware of.
Still lagging behind…
Europe has a number of competences and success stories in the tech sector, but it is still lagging far behind. Take creative online platforms, applications, social networks, new services: Almost nothing of these comes from Europe. The continent is not really in a good shape. We have to reverse this situation.
Digital Single Market now
Since decades we have created a common European market in a wide spectrum of sectors, giving a clear advantage to our industries in the context of the biggest market in world. There is no argument whatsoever against enlarging the benefits of the common market to the digital sector. Such benefits are expected to be much bigger if one looks to the markets of Europe’s associated partners such as Ukraine or Turkey. Fixing the regulatory fragmentation is the key issue: we do not need 28 national silos. In this respect, the general data protection regulation adopted a few months ago is the example to be followed.
A gigabyte society
The Digital Single Market cannot come reality without adequate infrastructures. Europe must aim for a gigabyte society if it does not want to fail. In order to make the most of booming sectors such as development of Internet of Things, machine-to-machine, or e–health, Europe cannot keep leveraging on 30 Mbps or 100 Mbps forever. It should start thinking of networks capable of reaching speeds of 500mbps or higher.
Europe is still grappling with two types of digital divide. The first concerns the connectivity gap between rural and metropolitan areas, which in turn requires more comprehensive investment strategies in digital infrastructures. The second lies between European citizens with digital skills and those who lack technological education. Member states should give more priority to the digital education of their citizens: the European Commission will step up its efforts to help them set up related policies on digital skills.
Beside Mr Oettinger, the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" featured keynote speeches from Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Andrus Ansip, and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Sergiu Bacioiu
We need to change the paradigm and change the course. A European digital market has to be seen as an immense advantage rather than a threat.
As an active member of the Italian “Internet Bill of Rights” Commission, the Commission that is trying to codify and outline “rules and rights” of the Internet with the intention to make it more open and accessible, I figured out the real debate is not about “rules and rights” but investments in digital, innovation, and in a truly single digital market.
Having a look around on what’s going on in Europe, and not only in Italy, I’m deeply convinced the continent has completely lost the world leadership in mobile technology.
We Europeans created the Global System for Mobile Communications that became a global standard. Right now, unfortunately, we lost that competitiveness; most innovation in information and communications technology comes from the other side of the Atlantic.
And that’s why we don’t have such a vibrant capital market as in America, and at the same time, we don’t create the conditions for our startups to become great corporations.
We need to change the paradigm and change the course. A European digital market has to be seen as an immense advantage rather than a threat. We also don’t need barriers of any kind because such barriers have a habit of outliving their usefulness.
How can we let the next Google, Facebook or Amazon be European and not American? The recent Obama’s statements against Europe don’t help and we need to find our way.
In a continent where there’s an important digital divide between nations, where you can find 28 different data privacy and copyright laws, where U.S. companies are going to remove services in some countries because of their local laws, what are the solutions to bridge the gap and create growth and jobs with innovation?
I guess the only answer possible is going ahead with the Digital Agenda explained by the Digital Commissioner Gunther Oettinger. Everybody right now is focused on Net Neutrality and the openness of the Internet, but Europe’s Internet is already open.
If you want to take your business online today, you can. We must not follow the current US approach led by President Obama and FCC. The real point, as ever, is to create the conditions to stimulate investments and entrepreneurship. To create a digital single market with efficient, modern policies across the continent that remove the burdens of becoming the next Google, Facebook or Amazon.
Half of European productivity growth over the past fifteen years was already driven by information and communications technologies and this trend is likely to accelerate. The European Commission identified seven priorities on which the first is creating a “Single Digital Market”.
As Oettinger said in February at the Berlinale “I want Europe to understand the advantages of digitalization. In an age where consumers are spending most of their time online, we should work together to ensure that our creative potential and European diversity are preserved and are accessible for everyone”.
That said, Italy is doing its part and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pointed out we need to increase the digitalization of our country, beginning from the public administration, and the challenge is not against American telecoms or OTT but to create the right conditions to bring back Europe in the Olympus of the digital innovation.
This column was originally published on E!Sharp
photo credit: Thomas Hawk
The EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy is calling net neutrality a “Taliban-like issue,” Google has started sending out sarcastic GIFs as on-the-record-statements, and the European parliament is caught in a Mexican standoff about data protection.
Communication is a delicate art. Both communicating about technology, and using technology to communicate require a touch of finesse. Two months since I left Brussels, I’ve been busy getting used to life in the UK and writing about politics; realizing it was time to get back up to speed on tech and EU, I wandered back over to that section of the internet. Well, all I can say is:
Gunther Oettinger is calling net neutrality a “Taliban-like issue,” Google has started sending out sarcastic GIFs as on-the-record-statements, and the parliament are going all Mexican standoff about data protection. It was as if I’d walked outside a quiet country pub to take a call on my mobile (LOL I know, so old-fashioned) and walked back in to find a fist-fight in full flow in the bar.
While the technology portfolio has always been a good one for raising eyebrows — who can forget Neelie Kroes’ “Chanel no. 5 and nothing else” moment, Mr. Oettinger has taken things to another level. Within his portfolio, as well as the Taliban comments — video below — he managed to give conflicting messages about geoblocking.
Ending geoblocking — so that users can watch content that’s been paid for in one country across the single market — is a very popular idea, especially with border-hopping Brussels bubblers. While Mr. Oettinger’s Tweets show enthusiasm, he said in an interview with FAZ that “we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” and should look at the impact on the film industry first.
That’s within his portfolio. The Commissioner hasn’t held back with his views on areas well outside it, either. He’s also told a German radio station Greece are like “elephants in a China shop.” Well, it takes one to know one. Let’s not forget one of his first moves on becoming commissioner was to take a pop at France’s efforts to sort out its deficit — not really an obviously digital issue.
He’s trampled on Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager’s territory with his views on the Google competition case. Also, it’s old but brilliant: remember that time he said there was no civilization West of Paris?
The next thing I thought I’d check up on is the Data Protection legislation, which was meant to be done by summer. The “one-stop shop” idea was a nice, easy-to-communicate policy: you have a query about online privacy, you got to the data protection authority in your country, they talk to the one in the country where the company is based, it gets fixed. Then I read this piece (by the excellent BrusselsGeek) and suddenly it wasn’t so clear. Lead supervisory who with the what now?!?
As well as the actual reworking of the data protection laws — meant to be completed this year — the European Parliament is flexing its muscles on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), saying there must be sufficient safeguards for Europe’s data protection laws. The parliament has to give its agreement to TTIP as a whole, and the civil liberties committee said it would have doubts about doing that without enough protection for EU citizens’ data. So it’ll be interesting to see how that one works out too…
So much drama! Perhaps the problem is simply words. They can be complicated, ambiguous and do as much to obfuscate as enlighten. We live in the age of Vine, Meerkat and Periscope, where live pictures of anything can be beamed into the ether at will. So Google have fixed this: instead of a boring old on-the-record statement (snooze) made using words (whatever, Grandpa) they decided to respond to a Wall Street Journal story about the Federal Trade Commission with a selection of Buzzfeed-tastic GIFs.
I guess that’s how it is now: two months away from covering technology in Brussels and I’m all like
photo credits: Chris Murphy
The whole debate about “suppressing borders” to online film viewing will only have any possibility of success if it is combined with a structural support to an evolution of the current chain of value and the whole European film industry source of income.
February is an essential month in the movie industry calendar. For a few days, the Martin-Gropius-Bau, an elegant XIXth century building which survived Berlin’s historical dramas, becomes the most important film marketplace in the world.
At the European Film Market, which runs parallel to the Berlinale, hundreds of films from all over the world are sold to film distributors, also from all over the world. In the market corridors, or in the large bars of international hotels, tens of agreements will turn film projects into a viable reality.
Indeed, Europe is here the main player both on the selling and the buying side, but not the only one. And what is sold here? Well, leaving aside co-production deals, this is essentially a market of distribution rights within a particular territory.
Film sales agents, authorized by the films’ rights holders contact distributors, and do what humans have been doing in markets for many centuries.
Films we have never heard of; films which are only known, if at all, in their country of origin, or which are already a hit in the domestic box office; films which may not be fully finished or which are little more than a script and a production plan; titles of all sort of budgets and genres are sold to distribution companies on a national basis, for these companies to make them available to theatres; or to include them in an online catalogue, or… : it would be long to describe here all the possible deals and formats these agreements can take.
What is important is that, as a result of those deals, as in any business, someone will be putting money at risk betting on the success of a movie; someone will start to recover part of an investment thanks to a good sale; someone will obtain the final amount allowing the film to become reality: “pre-sales” are in many cases an way of financing the film itself.
Once the market is over, distributors from small, midsize or large companies will return home with some titles in their bags and the rights for their theatrical and/or online distribution (and even other options nowadays) within a particular country.
Once back, they will spend time and money, in the form of advertisement targeted to the particular audience and in the language of the country where the film is to be released.
Many months or a couple of years later, leaving aside piracy, some of those movies will fall into total oblivion. But others that started their commercial life in Berlin may have won some awards here and there, or may have been very successful at the box-office.
Then, viewer’s demand for them will grow; people will look for those titles online… only to discover that the film is not available for viewing in that particular country.
Geo-blocking, that is the word. Online catalogues are territorial, even within the EU, and what is perhaps already available in one member state is blocked for you as soon as the platform’s software discovers that your IP belongs to the other side of the border.
What? Outrageous‼ Wasn’t the EU supposed to be a single market? Is that only true for the offline world? This is a truly anti-European practice! Well, wait a minute. This is not the result of an evil plan against consumers.
This is just the natural consequence of those deals which started at the ground floor of the Martin-Gropius-Bau, or any other film markets in Europe and abroad. It is just the result of a complex business model which sustains the very existence of that film you want to watch.
If someone paid for the film rights in Belgium, that company naturally expects to recover that investment in the Belgian box-office or through a Belgian web platform.
And that would be complicated if the Belgian audience can watch online the film from the online distribution made possible by someone who purchased the online film’s rights for Austria or for Ireland. It could even be possible that a movie is already online in Ireland, before even having been released in theatres in Antwerp or Brussels.
The European Commission wants to change this state of things. Commissioner Oettinger travelled to Berlin on February 9 to proclaim again that message before an audience of 700 film professionals.
It was his first direct contact with the film industry in his political career:
“I want more choice for consumers. They should also benefit from the advantages of digitalization and be able to shop for more films across-borders”.
This is the mantra constantly repeated by EU Officials, even by Junker himself. As they sometimes make it sound, their ideal world is a European digital single market where consumers can watch what they want when they want from any country. It sounds so nice. But who will be paying for that? To whom? How?
Too often those same officials forget to say that it is also the Commission’s responsibility to ensure in such an idealistic scenario, viewers can keep watching European content. That is also their obligation, both political and legal obligation according to the Treaties.
A similar consideration can be applied to many Members of the European Parliament (although MEPs are certainly free to have an anti-European political agenda or one that attacks European interests if they wish so).
That means that the whole debate about “supressing borders” to online film viewing will only have any possibility of success if it is combined with a structural support to an evolution of the current chain of value and the whole European film industry source of income.
This is not about protecting old business models per se: everybody and everything must be adapted to the online world and to new habits of consumption. The current “media chronology”, for example, which sets the mandatory timing for movies consecutive windows from the theatrical release to laptop downloading or TV broadcasting, must be reviewed.
It is definitely too rigid. And so can be reviewed other issues, as it is the case for the situation of films which are just not available at all in one country as the demand is too small there, but are fully available somewhere else in Europe.
Those and other aspects will need to change, and the industry knows that. But who has the capacity to buy the distribution rights of a film for the territories of 28 Member states at the same time? Who can manage and care about those theatrical releases of one title from Palermo to Gdansk, dubbed or subtitled in Polish, Italian and all the other languages?
Can that be done with one single uniform marketing campaign? And can it be done simultaneously? The replies to those questions easily lead to the names of a few non European companies, and to the film titles those companies would be ready to invest in.
In other words: for too many people it is Europe’s cultural diversity that can be at risk here, if the current scheme of contracts and investments and payments, which keeps the industry alive, is just killed through the EU’s Official Journal before the European film industry has been transformed and alternative ways of monetising film production and film distribution have been put in place.
Innovation can bring – it is bringing already – new opportunities to those who risked their money for a beautiful film to exist in the first place. It is so interesting that almost at the very moment that Commissioner Oettinger was talking at the first floor of the Ritz Carlton hotel in Berlin, Netflix made the announcement that it is opening its service in Cuba, and promised to include a large amount of Cuban movies in its U.S. catalogue (and when possible in other countries).
This will not reach a wide audience in Cuba for now (according to the International Telecommunications Union the country had 5,360 fixed broadband subscribers in 2013 out of a population of about 11.3 million), but the symbol is there.
In approximately three years, an audience of tens of millions of viewers, in the US and abroad (and a few Cubans among them), will have access via Netflix to some of the best European films resulting from deals closed in Berlin in February 2015.
Europe’s copyright rules have long been left behind by the exponential growth of digital technology. The existing EU framework rests on a directive from 2001, which was basically designed for an ‘analogue’ world.
The result is an outdated legal landscape that remains highly fragmented along national lines and looks ever more at odds with the borderless nature of the Internet.
Since its early days the new European Commission has pledged with great fanfare to fix the problem. It is now expected to unveil plans for copyright reform by this spring, the task being entrusted to the commissioner for the Digital Economy, Germany’s Günther Oettinger – with the commission’s Vice-President Andrus Ansip set to supervise the job. They better brace themselves for a bumpy ride. For the battle is about to turn nasty.
Copyright is one of Europe’s thorniest – and most polarizing – issues, with scores of vested interests pulling in opposite directions and (most) governments rather wary of relinquishing their national powers.
It is no wonder if the past decade has seen a series of EU-led initiatives flopping miserably. And it is not granted that Mr. Oettinger may succeed where his honourable predecessors failed. On paper he should have the experience and the political backing behind him to deliver.
After all, during his previous tenure as European commissioner for energy Mr. Oettinger had to deal with powerful lobbies. He can also count on strong support from the German government.But he is a newcomer to the complicated copyright dossier and admittedly he’s been given little time to think it through.
To be sure, the new digital commissioner will struggle to strike a satisfactory balance between right holders’ demands for protection (and esclusivity) and digital/telecoms players’ cries for more openness and flexibility. In fact, there are reasons to worry that he finds himself torn between the two opposing camps, ultimately giving birth to a botched, unambitious proposal that once again will prevent Europe from achieving an harmonized framework over copyright in sync with the digital times.
Norwegian politician Trygve Lie once described the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations, which he held for 6 years, as “the world’s most impossible job”. It is not exaggerated to say that Mr. Oettinger is about to grapple with Europe’s most impossible job.