Online video, EPGs, connected TV and the internet itself are coming under fresh scrutiny as debates on the future of audiovisual regulation step up a notch during this pivotal European election year. It´s a perfect moment for behind-the-scenes maneuvering, so what´s on the regulatory agenda?
One of the hottest topics is a potential – and radical – shift away from the ´country-of-origin´ principle, whereby service providers need only adhere to the laws of the nation in which they are domiciled. This underlying tenant of EU law is designed to promote free trade and provide legal certainty for businesses. If it were to happen new ´country-of-destination´ regulation would force, for example, providers of online video services to comply with individual national laws, creating a compliance nightmare for major multinational services.
It´s coming under discussion now because the entire European TV ecosystem is under threat: internet-based TV has dramatically lowered barriers to entry, enabling new entrants – especially those who are outside EU jurisdiction and who do not have to abide by EU rules – to compete with Europe´s broadcasters on an unprecedented scale.
The concept of ¨prominence¨ in Electronic Programme Guides is another hot topic where the goal is to ensure the discoverability of public service content. Given significant investments in content by Europe´s broadcasters, the goal is to maintain prominent positions for public service programming within the interfaces of EPGs. The concern is that when connected TV manufacturers and other TV innovators enable wide access to diverse content sources, content from the national and local broadcasters will become more difficult for audiences to find. But how to achieve this remains an open question. A government consultation on this topic was promised in the UK in February 2014 but has yet to materialise, yet EPG prominence, and the wider ´media convergence´ debate, remains firmly on the agenda of Europe´s regulators.
In 2013 the European Commission published a Green Paper consultation document ¨Preparing for a Fully Convergent Audiovisual World¨. More than 180 of the 200+ responses to the Green Paper have been made publicly available, and though it´s possible that their responses have been kept confidential, Netflix, Google, Amazon and others are not much present in the public debate. There has been hardly any involvement or contribution from other online video innovators.
In March, the French regulatory authority Conseil Supérior de l´Audiovisuel (CSA) announced its intention to regulate audiovisual digital content on the internet with the publication of its 2013 annual report. Conversations are also taking place under the auspices of the newly formed European Group of Regulatory Authorities (EGRA), headed by Olivier Schrameck, who also happens to be chair of the French CSA. The CSA’s attempt to extend its regulatory reach into the internet space, as well as its proposals for changing the ´country of origin´ rule, will be watched closely by Europe´s media regulators, according to an April 2014 report by Winston Maxwell, a media lawyer at Hogan Lovells.
What´s next? The responses to the Green Paper are now being scrutinised by regulators and conversations this year will set the scene for an active agenda in 2015 once the May 2014 European elections are over. Members of the European Platform of Regulatory Agencies (EPRA) will meet to discuss these matters at their June 2014 meeting. All of this is taking place ahead of a major announcement on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) by Neelie Kroes expected early autumn.
As reported by EPRA, on March 12, 2014 the European Parliament adopted a Resolution as a follow-up to the Commission´s Green Paper. The Resolution, which is based on a Report of the EP Culture and Communication Committee drafted by MEP Sabine Verheyen and adopted in January 2014, is built around a six-tier structure addressing the issues of convergent markets, access and findability, safeguarding diversity and funding models, infrastructure and frequencies, values and the overall regulatory framework. It follows a similar Resolution on Connected TV that was published last July. The Committees of the European Parliament are designed to aid the European Commission in initiating legislation. Parliament can amend and reject legislation and it can make a proposal for legislation, however it needs the Commission to draft a bill before anything can become law.
Regulators now face a far more complex landscape than ever before. Considering the pace of technological innovation together with corresponding debates raging around data protection and privacy, net neutrality, the protection of children online, social media apps and censorship. The task seems mammoth and it is. Despite sufficient funding to commission research and getting themselves well-briefed, regulators nevertheless remain far removed from disruptive TV market innovators.
It´s unclear at this point how far these recommendations will actually go, given that European elections are imminent. But these are just a few of the topics arising from the March eur§reg conference in Zürich and subsequent developments. It´s clear from the list of active players that policy proposals today are being driven principally by those most active in the debates: broadcasters, traditional platforms and regulators. Over the next year media convergence and content regulation developments will require closer scrutiny by a wider representative group of all the players active in this dynamic and rapidly changing industry. Given that the debates taking in 2014 will significantly influence the regulatory agenda for 2015, it´s probably just the right moment to get involved.
This is an extract from a longer report published on AVMW Watch, you can find it here at www.avmswatch.com.