Reding to rescue mobile TV in Europe

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The European Commission will present a new document aimed at paving the way for the spread of mobile television in Europe “within a few weeks,” EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding told EURACTIV in an interview. She gave positive signals on advertising on mobile handsets, but warned of dangers regarding invasion of privacy.

Viviane Reding is the EU’s information society commissioner.

To read a shortened version of the interview, please click here.

The two major sports events of last summer, the Olympic Games and the European Football Championships, were expected to be a launch pad for mobile television across Europe. Apparently this did not happen.

The industry was not ready. It is as simple as that. I told them very clearly that the Olympic Games and the European Football Cup were an opportunity to launch this system, but they were not ready. It is an opportunity lost. Let’s wait for the next one.

You have just announced a new Communication on mobile TV. Will it be useful to overcome the hurdles which hamper the take-up of mobile television in Europe?

Yes, a new communication is under way in order to fix the rules under which mobile TV should be launched. I will present it within a few weeks. There has too often been opposition between content providers and service providers. It has to be very clear what the rules are. That is what we are working on now. This comes after we selected a common standard, which now is developing worldwide: the DVB-H.

The main obstacle for mobile TV has been lack of coordination between content and service providers, which for mobile television means broadcasters and telecoms companies.

Indeed. If you do not have real win-win situations, things do not work. That is why if the industries play against each other, it cannot work. They have to do it together. In this case, both win. It is the same on the Internet. Online films flourish thanks to an agreement between the two parts of the economy. If they work against each other, they are going to lose.

Do you think mobile advertising can trigger more investment in mobile TV, and therefore more customers?

There are two models. One involves paying and the other one is about getting free services while accepting advertising.

Which one do you prefer?

I believe that young people would not mind advertisements at all, while older people would be happy to pay a little in order to get rid of the ads. I believe both models are very good but they have to be experienced.

There are privacy concerns regarding the means of sending ads to new media users.

Certainly there are privacy concerns. But you can see, I am intervening in a very decisive way. A few months ago, I complained to the UK authorities about the service PHORM, launched by BT, based on targeted advertising on the Internet. However, the media does not matter. It could also happen on television. It is the way you reach citizens that counts, not the platform you use. Our position is always the same: you cannot target citizens unless you have got  their prior informed consent. This is our European goal. Full stop.

Apart from the PHORM case, which represented a severe violation of privacy, there are other less invasive but more widespread uses of personal data in new media. Giants such as Google base their business model on targeted ads – which means sending advertisements tailored to the needs of a virtual customer whose data were usually collected without explicit consent.

Yes, but if someone attacks this in front of a court, it is very clear that it will not be accepted. You have to agree, as an individual, to your data being used.

Would you push Google to change its approach?

I don’t care whom it concerns. I apply European law. If it is necessary, we go ahead. I made very clear with the Brits that it was unacceptable. And they have changed their approach.

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