How similar is the regulation of the press to that of VOD? Asks Julian Clover.
ATVOD had an uncomfortable start to its life. The organisation, which now styles itself as the authority for the regulation of on demand content in the UK, is a self-regulatory body along the lines of the Press Complaints Commission.
However, there is a startling difference, in that at least newspapers pretend that they want to be regulated.
ATVOD gets its powers through the Communications Act and through that the regulator Ofcom, which in March 2010 allowed ATVOD to take on the power to regulate VOD content. Services would ‘notify’ ATVOD of their existence and would then be subject to a regulation of the lightest touch.
There were early complaints, both about those that had actually chosen to notify, and the cost of regulating – £467,307 in the first year of operation – though no doubt significantly cheaper than leaving the task with Ofcom.
This week came the result of a police procedural. Nickelodeon UK Limited, The Paramount Partnership and MTV Networks Europe had each appealed to Ofcom against ATVOD determinations that they respectively hold regulatory responsibility for the Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and MTV video on demand content on the Virgin Media platform.
They said that Virgin should take that responsibility in the same way that BT Vision and the short-lived SeeSaw had chosen to do.
The curiosity is that if a Nickelodeon show, say Sponge Bob Squarepants, received a complaint when shown on Nick itself, the channel would happily take the rap. But if that same programme was shown on Virgin’s VOD system, then it would be the responsibility of the operator, the pipe, or do we mean the pipe as a channel?
After all we are familiar with the sort of stat that says Virgin’s VOD viewing is greater than viewership to Channel 4 and Sky has long been described by some as if it were a single channel.
But it is the inconsistency that I am having a hard time to unravel. On some platforms you complain to the channel, others to the operator, the green ink brigade will have great difficulty knowing where to they should post their letters.
In newspapers the Press Complaints Commission is one of the topics being covered by the Leveson enquiry into media ethics. One newspaper, the Daily Express, owned by Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell that also owns Channel 5, has decided not to support the Commission and will not be regulated by them.
TV is going through what is arguably a greater change than that facing the press. A little consistency might be a good idea.