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Consultation on the rapidly converging audiovisual world

24 April 2013
by eub2 -- last modified 25 April 2013

Millions of Europeans catch up with their favourite TV series on a smartphone on the way to work, watch online content on their living room TV, or put their own user-generated content online. There are more than 40.4 million "connected TVs" in Europe, and they could be in the majority of EU households by 2016. These changes are sweeping away traditional boundaries between consumers, broadcast media and the internet. The Commission wants to explore what this convergence of technology and content could mean for Europe's economic growth and innovation, cultural diversity, and consumers (especially those that may need protection, such as children}.


The Green Paper adopted by the Commission today invites stakeholders and the wider public to share their views between now and the end of August 2013, on issues such as:

  • The rules of the game. Fostering the right conditions for dynamic EU businesses to deal with international (especially US) competition; especially given that competing players may be subject to different rules;
  • Protecting European values (including media freedom) and user interests (e.g. protecting children, accessibility for users with disabilities). Do people expect higher protection for TV programmes than for internet content; and where is the line to be drawn?
  • Single market and standards. Seemingly, some devices do not work the same way across Member States. How can we promote the right technological environment?
  • Financing. How will convergence and changing consumer behaviour influence how films, TV shows and other content is financed? How are different actors in the new value-chain contributing?
  • Openness and media pluralism. Should pre-defined filtering mechanisms, for example in search engines, be subject to public intervention? Are the existing practices relating to premium content – for example, major sport events and successful recently released films - at wholesale level affecting market access and sustainable business operations? Are platforms sufficiently open?

This new reality is already being discussed in several EU countries and in the European Parliament. Views differ on how to respond. Some parties call for immediate changes to rules and regulations; some remain satisfied with the status quo for the time being, while others point to self and co-regulation. The Green Paper does not pre-suppose any action, but in following up, the Commission might explore regulatory and policy responses, including self-regulation.


Why a Green Paper? Does the Commission plan to review the Audiovisual Media Services Directive?

The Commission wants to open a broad, public discussion on the implications of the on-going transformation of the audiovisual media landscape. The consultation does not presuppose any specific outcome. Nonetheless, in the medium to long term it may have an impact on a number of legal instruments, including the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD).

Does converging technologies mean that traditional broadcasting is no longer relevant?

No. On average, people still watch 4 hours of traditional TV (also known as "linear" broadcasting) a day across the EU. But our viewing habits are evolving. Connected devices like PCs, smartphones, tablets and games consoles make it easier to create, distribute, share and view all types of content no matter when or where you are. Converging technologies and changing viewing patterns have pushed broadcasters, technology companies and other players to develop and adapt business models.

What does this convergence mean for growth and innovation?

    Equipment manufacturers and technology developers can serve a growing market with innovative devices including user-friendly interfaces and accessibility solutions.

    Network operators will see increased demand for bandwidth with a positive impact on investments in high-speed networks.

    Content creators can find new ways to increase their audience, monetise their works and experiment with creative ways to produce and offer content.

    Broadcasters can find more platforms to distribute their content and enhance their interactive offerings.

And what could this mean for viewers?

For example, a Polish student spending her Erasmus year in London could watch TV series and other content from Polish broadcasters on her tablet or connected TV. She could pay with her Polish credit card — just like back home in Krakow - because Polish services were provided to London. Imagine that her flatmate is from the UK and is writing a thesis on films by Portuguese directors. During the day he watches material from Portuguese broadcasters on online platforms. In the evening the flatmates often relax by watching together sports events from various EU countries.

Isn't the European audiovisual market still very fragmented?

Europe's cultural and linguistic diversity give creators a competitive advantage in a global market, but it also poses challenges for growth and consolidation in the EU-wide market. So far, US-based media and internet players have taken advantage of the situation, raising sizeable budgets and making economies of scale. However, European broadcast and online companies do not seem able to seize the same opportunities. The Green Paper seeks feedback on why this is so and what European players could do to improve their position.

Limitations to consumer choice is also a problem. What consumers can view online is often limited by national borders. Apps in smart TV are often restricted by national settings or manufacturers' pre-selected choices, often blocking access to content from other EU countries.

How does the Green Paper link with other on-going consultations?

The Commission has launched in parallel two public consultations in the area of media freedom and pluralism. One seeks feedback on the report of the independent High Level Group (HLG) on Media Freedom and Pluralism. As this report also showed the need for a separate debate regarding the independence of audiovisual regulatory bodies, a second consultation is addressing this issue. Input from these consultations will also feed into the debate on convergence.

What about copyright?

The Green Paper on the online distribution of audiovisual works focussed on copyright and the results will be published this year. In December 2012, the Commission re-affirmed its commitment to work for a modern copyright framework. It is pursuing two parallel tracks of action: a structured stakeholder dialogue in 2013 and the completion of market studies, impact assessments and legal drafting work, with a view to a decision in 2014 whether to table the resulting legislative reform proposals.

What about self-regulation?

This is addressed in the consultation, whose outcome may lead to promoting self-regulatory initiatives, like the on-going Coalition for a Better Internet for Kids and follow up to the High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism

Does the Commission plan to regulate the terms for licensing sports events and the latest movies to content providers?

In today's competitive media landscape, market players (e.g. pay-TV operators, free to air public service and commercial broadcasters, VoD distributors and device manufacturers) fight for viewers' attention by offering live sports, the latest films or other premium content. Certain Member States have examined whether broadcasters who have purchased the exclusive rights for live top sports events and first-run Hollywood movies should also be obliged to make these available to competitors. The Commission has no plans to regulate in this area at the moment. However, there is a need to find out what the situation is in the market and for a wide debate.

Who should contribute to content financing?

Millions of Europeans watch video on demand through websites like YouTube, Vimeo and others. Many on-demand platforms are already contributing to the creation of original content (short films, series etc). Currently, under the AVMSD, providers of on-demand content media may be obliged to give prominence to or have a certain share of European work in their catalogues. They may also be obliged to contribute to the production and rights acquisition of European works. The AVMSD also obliges traditional broadcasters to reserve the majority of their transmission time for European works. Some Member States are discussing whether internet-based players that are not contributing so far should also contribute to financing of European content as they are directly involved in its exploitation. This might also raise specific issues regarding contributions from non-European players. The Green Paper seeks feedback on how different actors in the new value chain are contributing to financing.

Will the Commission encourage a specific standard for connected TV?

The Commission is not taking any new position on standards, but is asking for feedback on how to ensure interoperability and whether there is a need for new or updated standards.

Connected TV devices and services depend on a variety of standards in the broadcasting, IT and telecom sectors:

    HbbTV is an ETSI standard applied by a number of broadcasters, content providers, networks and consumer device manufacturers in Europe to link broadcast and broadband content.

    Complete platform solutions where broadcasters and network operators cooperate, such YouView in the UK.

    The MHP standard predominantly used in Italy, mainly for historical reasons.

There appears to be a risk of fragmentation in Europe with devices differing across Member States even when they use the same standard. The regulatory framework on electronic communications already includes certain provisions on TV technology, including references to relevant standards in this area.

Broadcasting and the internet are global. What about players or websites based outside Europe?

The Commission is looking for feedback on the scope and definition of providers covered by EU broadcasting rules (AVMSD).

The AVMSD applies to media service providers, including those who deliver content over the internet. As long as a provider has responsibility for the choice of the content and determines the manner in which it is organised, it has to follow EU broadcasting rules.

There are also debates on where these rules could apply. The AVMSD applies only to providers under EU jurisdiction. In terms of satellite broadcasting, this jurisdiction relates to the Member State in which the satellite up-link is located or the satellite capacity used is 'appertaining to that Member State'. At the moment, the AVMSD does not apply to content delivered over the internet from countries outside the EU, but aimed at EU internet users. Even if many of the main non-EU internet players have offices or another physical presence in Europe, questions are being raised about how services currently not covered by the AVMSD should follow the same rules as traditional and EU-based broadcasters.

Shouldn't traditional broadcasters and on-demand video platforms follow the same broadcasting rules?

The AVMSD treats linear (television broadcasts) and non-linear (on-demand) services in different ways. The rational is that since consumers have more choice and greater control about what they view in on-demand services, there is a lesser need for regulation in this area. However, convergence and connected TV are blurring these lines. Consumers may sometimes find it hard to tell the difference. The Green Paper is seeking views and asking for evidence on whether the current differentiated treatment is distorting the market

Do personalised search results and other filter mechanisms have an impact on consumers choices?

The Green Paper looks at whether pre-defined choice through filtering mechanisms, including in search facilities, should be subject to public intervention at EU level. Filtering mechanisms, including personalised search results, make it easier for people to receive the news they are interested in, from the sources they like and also help combat information overload. However, some see these filters as a threat to the position of print and online news media as independent news providers and curators. For example, filtering means that online companies can determine what content is accessible. It can also limit choices, for example by varying the prominence with which certain content is displayed, limiting the citizen's ability to change the menu or restricting certain applications. The availability of various platforms providing valuable content to users, and the openness of those platforms, are important conditions for a thriving media landscape.

EU rules limit TV advertising to 12 minutes per hour, but there are no limits for on-demand services. Is this fair?

Traditional and on-demand broadcasters have to follow EU rules related to the advertising of certain products and advertising to children. However, rules which limit advertising to 12 minutes per hour transmitted only apply to TV broadcasters. In addition, video-on-demand and other online services are often offered by companies based outside the EU and not necessarily subject to EU rules. Some European broadcasters fear this situation puts them at a disadvantage. The Green Paper asks whether the existing AVMSD regarding commercial communications will still be appropriate in a converged world

Who decides whether there should be commercial overlays on the TV screen?

Some innovative advertising techniques put existing rules to the test. For example commercial overlays- similar to pop-up windows on computer screens- offer a new advertising outlet. These can sometimes be placed by the broadcaster, but technology means that TV manufacturers can also place a commercial message over the picture broadcast by the TV signal. The overlay could also provide links between the content of the commercial message and the content of the broadcast programme. Some are concerned that new developments such as this challenge the essential purpose of advertising regulation, in particular whether such overlays could be shown with or without the consent of users and broadcasters. Disguised commercial communications in the online environment could also present challenges. The Green Paper seeks feedback on who should have the final say on whether or not to accept commercial overlays or other novel techniques on screen.

How can you protect children and teenagers in a progressively converged world?

The Green Paper seeks feedback on areas such as the appropriateness of current rules, mechanisms to ensure parental awareness of existing tools, effective age verification measures and user information and empowerment.

With traditional broadcast and online content available on the same living room TV screen, there are concerns that the current rules on children's access to content may not be up-to-date. Effective age verification also remains a challenge. Differences in the regulatory approach to different types of content on screen might also make it difficult for users to determine which authorities to complain to.

What about public service broadcasting?

Many public service broadcasters are moving into the online world with applications or webpages. While some welcome this extension, others perceive this as direct competition with commercial broadcasters who do not benefit from public funding. In 2009, the Commission adopted a Communication on the application of state aid rules to public service broadcasters in the light of new technological developments. This introduced the requirement for public consultations to be held regarding the launch of significant new services by public service broadcasters. This would allow the Member State to assess the impact of a new service on the market and to balance it against its value for society.

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