In an age of YouTube and on-demand programming, how do you define and regulate broadcasted entertainment? How many people have heard of the "Television Without Frontiers" Directive (TVWF Directive)? Do you know the "Television Without Frontiers" Directive, the cornerstone of the European Union's audiovisual policy, might decide the future of interactive services in Europe?
The "Television Without Frontiers" Directive rests on two basic principles: the free movement of European television programmes within the internal market and the requirement that television channels, reserve over half their broadcasting time for European works. On 28 August 2006, the Culture Committee of the European Parliament debated the draft report on the modernised "Television without frontiers" (TVWF) Directive.
The "Television Without Frontiers" Directive (TVWF Directive) is currently being modernised to extend regulation to cover not just traditional scheduled broadcast services, but all audiovisual media services – usually referred as the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive. This new definition covers all services which have, as their principal purpose, the provision of moving images in order to entertain, inform or educate, where there some form of compensation is involved – advertising, sponsorship for example. The new definition of the "Television Without Frontiers" Directive (TVWF Directive) does not include private correspondence, but would include a huge number of services that are currently emerging or are yet to emerge – IPTV, mobile TV, through to video blogs and other user generated content.
The modernisation project is driven by the following changes in the audiovisual industry driven by the European Union:
The convergence of technologies and services: traditional (linear) TV, Internet TV, TV on mobile phones and other mobile devices, etc.;
Expansion of fixed broadband, digital TV and 3G networks;
Increase in per-per-view;
Innovations in non-linear service delivery such as video on demand (VOD);
Peer-to-peer exchanges of audiovisual content;
Interwoven linear and non-linear services;
Changing viewer habits: more and more people want the audiovisual content following their time schedule and not the other way around;
New advertising methods, such as search-related ads on the internet or SMS ads on mobile phones.
The exact scope of the legislation the European Commission is proposing is unclear, however opposition is mounting. Shaun Woodward MP, Minister for Creative Industries and Tourism for the UK government summarises his concerns; "We have serious concerns over the inclusion of non-linear services [such as video-on-demand] in the Directive. This is neither desirable nor practical, as there is nothing to stop companies relocating outside the EU to bypass regulations. Companies may relocate, taking jobs and services elsewhere, while the content is still consumed here." Furthermore OFCOM has published a study conducted by RAND Europe on the implications of the new regulations on video and streaming content online.
The threat is that the revised "Television Without Frontiers" Directive legislation will create legal uncertainty because it directly overlaps with other legislation (currently in place within each member state) and is to vague to establish clear direction. Furthermore, self-regulation schemes should be encouraged instead of more regulation related to the broadcasting and advertising scope of new interactive services. Currently there is no industry standard for advertising on emerging platforms such as video content and video on demand – will the new legislation establish limits before the market can determine the best balance between user experience and monetary contribution?
It is a matter of Dark Matter Politics when regulation ordained by the European Union preludes the opportunity for the market, through testing and self regulation, to determine the best way of managing new emerging technologies. Furthermore, the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive may not only stifle the growth of interactive content in Europe but take precedence over the choices and legislations of each member state.