EU Broadcasting Directive Extends Rules To On-Demand, Web Escapes

New media legislation passed in the European Union extends some of the regulations once devised for television to the internet. The Audiovisual Media Services Without Frontiers (AVMS) directive updates the 1989 Television Without Frontiers (TWF), which is credited with helping create a competitive continental internal broadcasting market, in light of new developments in media technology and consumption.

It’s a classic piece of European legislative housekeeping. The AVMS makes the first distinction between linear media (ie. TV and, somewhat curiously, the internet and mobile) and non-linear media (ie. video on demand and some internet video), aiming to simplify regulation of the former and introduce new rules for the latter. Previously, TV-like platforms that broadcast over the internet were able to evade the old legislation. In the new guidelines, limits on advertising and product placement in programming are relaxed in order to ensure shows can attract adequate funding (12 minutes of ads per hour), while non-linear content gets light-touch regulation, primarily concerning protecting minors, ensuring cultural diversity, preventing incitement to hatred and some basic consumer protections.

As industry representatives note in the WSJ, while VOD services will be affected, the conventional internet per sé is left largely untouched – that might seem curious, given that’s where the majority of changes are coming from (Joost, YouTube, anyone?), but the commission has decided to let the online innovation flourish. The AVMS also retains the previous “country of origin” principle, under which broadcasters would be held liable to media regulation from their home governments, not the supra-national European lawmakers.

An earlier version of the directive sparked fears the European Commission was seeking to legislate podcasting, vidcasting and the likes of YouTube, but a revision was ratified by the European Parliament’s culture and education committee this month and has now been accepted by the parliament and European Council. The rules will come in to force by the end of this year, by which time European member states will have two years to implement the legislation at home.