New VoD regulation poses industry-wide dilemma for media

As client industry body ISBA's Bob Wootton summed up so succinctly last week: "There is no recession in regulation."

Tess Alps is chief executive of Thinkbox
Tess Alps is chief executive of Thinkbox

Hardly a day goes by without some pronouncement from the Government or a government-funded body about the future of media and its regulation. Promoting universal broadband penetration, product placement, contract rights renewal, top-slicing - you name it and it's likely a relevant ruling, statement or consultation has been announced in recent weeks.

Ofcom's latest consultation is part of trying to get the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) done and dusted by the deadline of 19 December. From this date, all
on-demand "TV-like" services will be subject to revised European law.

If you think this is something that will trouble only TV companies, think again - this regulation could touch most parts of the media industry, from radio and print, to pure-play internet companies.

Defining exactly what video-on-demand is "TV-like" and what is not will be very challenging. The obvious players - ITV Player, 4oD, Demand Five, Sky Player and the BBC iPlayer - whether delivered via the web or IPTV platforms, are first in line.

But where does YouTube fit in? Ofcom has indicated it doesn't want to include user-generated content in the guidelines. But YouTube now aggregates professional content from broadcasters and others, as do social networking sites such as Bebo, in addition to their own commissioned "TV-like" dramas. Yahoo and Microsoft video player services, widgets and the like are almost certain to be included.

Ofcom has also said it doesn't expect to regulate newspaper websites, but where does that leave Telegraph TV, or the professionally made films with pre-roll ads sitting on the sites of The Guardian and other print titles? And would digital outdoor screens showing "TV-like" content and "TV-like" ads fall within the remit of the AVMS?

If you do find yourself subject to the AVMS Directive, by 20 December you will be regulated by Ofcom in conjunction with The Association for Television On-Demand (ATVOD) for programming and the Advertising Standards Authority for advertising.
 
If you don't, this poses an interesting commercial and ethical dilemma for media owners, agencies and advertisers. Even if you can legally "get away" with content and ad messages that would breach the AVMS code, should you?

Do we risk confusing consumers with double standards in content and ads? And, of course, there would be the cost of making different versions of ads. If you want your views to be considered, you have until 26 October to let Ofcom know.

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