The ‘Audio Visual Media Services Directive’ saga goes on. Starting out as a harmless update to the creaking ‘TV Without Frontiers Directive’ the measure grew to regulate almost all that moved on screens. But have Euro MPs cut it down to size? Stephen Groom tunes in.
Who: The European Parliament
When: December 2006
Euro MPs voted on the latest version of the draft "Audio Visual Media Services Directive" ("AVMSD"), intended to take the place of the now out of date "Television Without Frontiers" Directive of 1989.
One of the (now) glaring omissions of the 1989 Directive was its application only to TV broadcast over wires and over the air and its failure to extend to on demand services.
To bring the measure up to speed with intervening technological developments, the grand plan was to extend it to all "audio visual media services." To address the decline in traditional TV advertising revenue in face of competition from alternative AV services available over the internet, it was also planned to dilute ad laws.
From these good intentions came a first version of the AVSMD. Central to the new scheme was the concept of a base level of controls over all types of audio visual content with an additional level of tighter controls over "push" , non on demand media.
"Linear" and "non linear" dichotomy
"Push" media was dubbed "linear services" and the "pull", on demand media subject to the lighter regulatory touch was christened "non linear."
So far so OK but many including Ofcom here in the UK and most non consumer orientated stakeholders were aghast at the very broad definition of "non linear services". This appeared to extend to virtually anything that moved on line including user generated, "pull" content such as that in the new breed of social networking sites such as You Tube, Bebo and MySpace.
There were also worrying references to "country of destination" ruling, thus potentially removing at a stroke one of the chief advantages of such a harmonising measure.
And so the lobbying continued, culminating in amendments to the draft AVMSD in November 2006 by European Ministers and by a European Parliament sub committee.
These looked to be going in a more measured and sensible direction and the seal was set by a vote by Euro MPs in December 2006.
Euro MPs vote for sanity
The shape of the draft AVMSD now looks like this:
These categories have been tweaked so that "Linear" or "Television broadcast" services will extend to traditional broadcasting services transmitted in a chronological series of programmes on a fixed schedule.
The other regulated service type will be "non linear" or "on demand" services where the user asks for a specific programme to be transmitted to him such as happens with IPTV and video on demand.
What will not now be covered at all will be "non programme" type A/V material such as that on sites such as MySpace and YouTube.
Country of origin
Media service providers will be subject to the jurisdiction of the member state where they are established, in other words country of origin. However member states will have the right to impose stricter rules on "linear" service providers on public policy grounds such as protection of minors or public security.
Paid for or otherwise, product plaement will now be permitted provided viewers are told of it at the start and finish of the programme and every 20 minutes during the programme. There will also be editorial controls. The relaxation will extend to cinematograph films, made for TV films, series made for TV and sports broadcasts.
There will still be no more than 20% of advertising per hour but the requirement for at least 20 minutes between ads has been removed and films may now be interrupted by ads every 30 minutes instead of every 45 minutes. However slightly fewer ad breaks will be allowed in children's TV with a break during a 30 minute slot being allowed only if the programme is more than 30 minutes long.
No major surprises here with ads having to be identifiable and distinct from programmes. They must not be surreptitious or subliminal and their loudness must not be increased above programmes.
Ads for alcohol must not be aimed at kids and ads for cigarettes and other tobacco products and prescription medicines stay banned.
There is also a new statement requiring states to encourage the drawing up of codes of conduct on the inclusion in ads of unhealthy food and drink, such as food high in fat, sugar or salt.
The existing sponsorship rules are extended to all A/V services, linear and non linear. Tobacco product sponsorship will stay banned and there can be no sponsorship in the name of prescription medicines, though manufacturers of such medicines can sponsor such programmes.
Why this matters:
The amended draft that emerges from the European Parliament vote looks far more likely to command wide support. It now goes back to the Council of Ministers in mid February 2007 with a view to a "common position" being adopted by the Council in May 2007. Once signed off, the Directive will have to be implemented within two years suggesting an in force date sometime in 2010.