By the end of 2001, the European Commission intends to have completed its review of the principal EU law affecting television advertising, the Television Without Frontiers Directive.
Topic: Virtual Advertising
Who: European Commission, Virtual Imaging Alliance
When: Up to June 2002
By the end of 2001, the European Commission intends to have completed its review of the principal EU law affecting television advertising, the Television Without Frontiers Directive. This was first adopted in 1989 and has since been revised once to deal with teleshopping. Now a new review is to start and with that in mind the Commission has published an action plan entitled: "Principles for regulation of the Audiovisual Sector in the Digital Age." The plan includes a study of new marketing techniques, which the Commission recognise as including virtual advertising. Strangely, however, it is not currently expecting to complete this study until June 2002, six months after the deadline for completing the TV Without Frontiers Directive review.
To help co-ordinate the burgeoning virtual advertising industry’s response to the review and the study, the industry has formed the Virtual Imaging Alliance. Part of their mission is to persuade the Commission that virtual advertising or "virtual imaging" (the practice of digitally altering what is seen on the TV screen, most commonly at present during sports event broadcasts, so as to include an advertising message) should not be regulated in the same way as ordinary "broadcast advertising." Why? Because it is not attractive to the virtual imaging industry for the practice to be subject to rules such as those restricting advertising in sports programmes to insertions between natural parts or intervals, requiring periods of at least 20 minutes between ad breaks within programmes and limiting the percentage of each day’s broadcast time that can be devoted to advertising. The VIA argue that because the contractual relationships surrounding virtual advertising are quite different to those for ordinary broadcast ads, with no direct contract between the broadcaster and the advertiser, the regulatory approval should be quite different.
The Commission on the other hand expresses concerns about controlling "surreptitious advertising," the continuing need for "clear separation" between advertising and other material and the need to be vigilant in respect of promotional messages which only take up part of the screen.
So already the lines are being drawn.
Why this matters:
Not for the first time, the lamentable speed at which the Commission gets to grips with new technological developments creates a severe risk of the regulatory process being quickly overtaken by industry progress. It also means that individual member states, not to mention bodies such as FIFA (see our own item on this in World News International Newsfeed Vaults under "Sports") are already introducing their own piecemeal and varying virtual advertising rules. Germany, for example, has recently introduced rules allowing the practice whereas it was previously banned. Italy is proposing to outlaw all "special effects" in programmes, whilst in Spain recently introduced laws limit the use of virtual imaging to static logotypes and allow no animation.
We suggest that as a priority the EC speeds up its "New Advertising Technique" investigation so as to be able to include any harmonised rules in the next round of revisions to the TV Directive.