Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Video blogs in Europe: the death knell?

The Times recently reported the European Commission's confirmation that EU proposals under the draft Audiovisual Media Services Directive, or AMS Directive, to "update" the regulation of television broadcasting and the audiovisual sector in Europe generally, could extend to videoblogs. (The UK government has a page on this proposal including key issues and a conference on it last year, too, plus their formal responses to the EU.)

I've not been able to find the Commission press release or report which is meant to be the source of that confirmation, so I assume the Times simply spoke to someone there, but the Times is pretty authoritative so I guess it's true - and worrying.

The intention is to regulate video on demand (VOD) and internet broadcasting as "non-linear audio visual services" ("non-linear" being "pull" services you consume "on demand" as and when you choose, rather than "push" services broadcast to a schedule) - but why on earth try to regulate the simple videoblog too?

The regulatory requirements for non-linear services are not as stringent as for TV - they aim e.g. to protect minors, prevent incitement to racial hatred, identify the "media service provider" (goodbye anonymous vlogging), limit advertising (list taken from Euractiv summary).

But still, they will catch blogs with "a commercial purpose, where video was the main element", if the video blog (a.k.a. vlog) is popular enough to count as "mass media". If your vlog has ads, then that seems enough to make it "commercial"! Lots of vlogs are very popular (="mass media"), so these proposals could stifle vlogging in Europe - just when video blogging is starting to take off generally.

There are existing laws to prevent incitement etc, but the Commission claims in their FAQ that they'll only be "harmonising" those rules across the EU. While regulating TV is fine, like many I believe that this would be the start of regulating the internet. And I'm not at all keen on states trying to do that. It would be the thin end of the wedge. Current laws try to strike a balance between freedom of speech vs. censorship and to protect vulnerable groups. Extending the reach and red tape of bureaucratic regulation to vlogging would be going too far.

One good thing is that the Times said that the UK's broadcasting regulator Ofcom and the UK government were against the extension of statutory regulation to internet content (see e.g. a speech in January 2006 by Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture). In this, if little else, they deserve our support.

According to Euractiv a bunch of organisations and companies in the industry (such as the Internet Service Providers' Association, Yahoo, Cisco and BT - where's Google, I ask?) have also got together to fight the proposals, with the backing of Ofcom. They've created a site Audiovisualstakeholders.org and produced a 9-page paper "Audiovisual Media Services Draft Directive - Opinions and Recommendations from Stakeholders in the UK" setting out their views about the approach to the proposals. While they cover the proposals generally, including on linear AV services, they also strongly oppose extending regulation to cover "non-linear" services.

Even if the UK government can't persuade the EU to back down on this extension, maybe the combined might and money of these industry bodies will. In this one area at least, I personally think the interests of consumers and industry (and indeed society) are aligned.

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Peter Looms said...

I think you need to look under the "Television without Frontiers" directive that is currently under review.

Improbulus said...

Thanks for your comment Peter - it's the same thing. It is the TWF Directive which the AMS Directive aims to update.