After much lobbying by Ofcom and others, Euro ministers have engineered revisions to the much-criticised draft Audio Visual Media Services Directive. Product placement and, thanks to Euro MPs, food ads to kids also feature in key recent changes. Carla Basso investigates.
Who: European Council of Ministers
When: November 2006
In December 2005 the EC released its proposed changes to Directive 89/552/EEC – the "Television without Frontiers Directive". Originally adopted to provide a legal framework for the free movement of television broadcasting services in the EU, and the promotion of European content, the Directive has since lagged behind the technological and cultural changes in the television market. With the addition of IPTV, mobile television, podcasting, user-generated content, and time-shifting devices like Sky+ and PVRs to our standard terrestrial, cable and satellite viewing, it's no surprise that the Commission has decided it's high time they updated the old rules for the 21st century.
However, what has been a surprise is how vehemently industry, regulators and governments have opposed some of the suggested changes, with the UK being one of the most vocal in its concerns about the December draft. After much lobbying at all levels, it seems that at least some of these issues have been taken on board. The European Council reached a "General Approach" on the existing draft on 13 November (which was adopted pending Parliaments opinion, in first reading) – this outlines a number of important amendments:
– Services – the almost universally disliked proposed definitions of "linear" and "non-linear" audiovisual media services are to be modified. Now, audiovisual media services will fall within the Directive if they are either scheduled "television broadcasts" or "on-demand services", but in each case only if the main purpose of that service is the provision of "programmes" – moving images with or without sound which constitute individual items within a schedule or catalogue established by the service provider, and which are comparable to the form and content of television broadcasting. Services which are primarily non-economic, and which do not compete with television broadcasting (such as private websites, and user generated content) are not intended to be caught.
Although the aim is that the programme definition should be interpreted in a "dynamic way, taking into account developments in television broadcasting", in reality, the speed at which competing television-like services are being launched may mean that the race to future proof this definition may well be an impossible one to win.
– Advertising – the proposed changes to the rules on the placing of adverts which would have seen ad breaks in films, children's and news programmes restricted to every 35 minutes worried advertisers and broadcasters alike, since most programmes of this type are bought and sold in 30 minute blocks. This rule has now been reduced to a more scheduler friendly interval of 30 minutes.
– Product placement – banned outright by the original Directive, member states can now choose to opt out of the prohibition, and authorise product placement in films, television series, sports and entertainment programmes, in accordance with a strict set of conditions (which include informing viewers of the existence of the product placement at the start and end of the programme). Slightly more flexible conditions can be applied where the programme has been acquired from an independent producer. Product placement remains banned in children's programmes, documentaries and news.
– Country of origin principle – the backbone of the original Directive, which safeguards the free movement of television services, is maintained. However, a new co-operation procedure has been included to resolve disagreements between member states over audiovisual media services targeted outside their country of establishment. If these procedures fail, the Commission can step in.
Euro MPs chip in with junk food advertising change
On the very same day as the above changes were agreed by Ministers, The European Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Education adopted a number of changes to the Directive of their own.
The most notable of these was a ban on advertising for junk food products (defined as high calorie foods) in any children's programme.
Why this matters:
The extension of the Directive from pure television to all audio-visual media services will change the regulatory burden on broadcasters, on-demand service providers and advertisers alike. Keeping up to speed with these proposals will enable companies to structure their digital media business practices accordingly and avoid any nasty compliance surprises when the final Directive hits the streets. This may be sooner than some people think - the European Parliament is expected to adopt its opinion imminently, which will be followed by another vote by the Council early next year, so watch this (linear) space…..
The Parliamentary contribution on food advertising and children on the same day chimes in with the package of measures announced by Ofcom to come into force in the UK by spring 2007.