Industry opposes online content regulation
An industry alliance bringing together internet service providers, telecom operators, content providers and hardware makers attacks Commission plans to bring some online content under a regulatory scheme initially created for TV.
On 13 December 2005, the Commission presented a legislative proposal for the revision of the 'Television without Frontiers' Directive. The Commission proposes, among other changes, to extend some of the Directive's regulatory provisions to websites and other online services streaming audiovisual digital content to their customers. As a result, the Directive would also be re-named to 'Audiovisual Media Services Directive'.
The extension of the scope concerns mainly on-demand content such as shows, movies, serials, sports events and news reports, including the advertising therein. The Commission says that it does not concern video clips and animations in news and press websites, nor blogs, video podcasts, picture telephony over the internet and other non-commercial content.
The obligations for digital "pull", "on-demand" or"non-linear" are different from those for television, the reason being, among other things, that it cannot be controlled as easily. Examples for content regulation obligations are:
- to respect protection of minors
- not to incite to hatred
- to identify the media service provider
- to identify advertising and other forms of commercial content
- not to use surreptitious advertising
- to respect rules on product placement and sponsoring
- to respect some restrictions on advertising (e.g. not to advertise alcoholic beverages in programmes for minors)
to oppose the extension of the scope is spearheaded by Intellect, the trade association for the UK high-tech industry, and by the Broadband Stakeholder Group, also from the UK. The industry group backs the extension of the scope to scheduled, so-called 'linear' audiovisual services, as long as they are "identical in nature to traditional scheduled broadcast services". It is opposed, however, to including non-linear services, which include video-on-demand services, were audiovisual content is streamed to users who have or have not paid a fee for the service. The latter, the group says, should be made subject to self-regulatory mechanisms. The alliance includes industry giants such as Cisco, BT, T-Mobile, Vodafoine and Wanadoo, but also publishers of newspapers and of music, advertisers and TV channels like Channel 4 and Five.
Ofcom, the British media and telecommunication regulatory authority, backs the industry alliance. The Financial Times newspaper quotes Tim Suter, in charge of content regulation at Ofcom, as warning "that new media broadcasters could base themselves outside the EU to avoid the regulations" and saying the directive "posed great practical difficulties for regulators trying to monitor the output of myriad new services rather than a limited number of traditional channels".
Discussions on the Commission's proposal have started in the Parliament. They involve as many as six committees, with the Culture Committee taking the lead. It will present its report in June.
The Parliament expects to debate the report in its October plenary session.