The proposal for an updated EU Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive (Directive) now awaits approval from European Parliament. The overarching goal of the proposal is to bring about a balance between competitiveness and consumer protection in light of recent advances in audiovisual technology. This article will provide a reminder of the key proposed changes.
The deregulation of advertising rules under the proposed amendments presents opportunities for broadcasters to explore different approaches to commercial communications, product placements and sponsorship. However, the proposal to introduce a European content quota and cross-platform rules for the protection of minors may appear to impose greater restriction. The biggest potential impact on business in respect of the updated Directive will result from Brexit. Failure to negotiate continued integration with the strongly unified Directive framework may leave the UK highly exposed, risking the loss of its status as a key destination for international broadcasters looking to access the EU broadcasting market.
Much has changed since the Directive was adopted in 2007. The broadcasting market continues to evolve, blurring the distinctions between traditional audiovisual media. Audiovisual consumption has continued to shift from television screens to the smaller screens of our smartphones and tablets, from real-time broadcast to online VOD (video-on-demand) services and UGC (user generated content).
To keep up with these viewing trends and technological developments, broadcasters are expanding their online activities, developing new platforms and establishing innovative ways to deliver audiovisual content. TV broadcasting, VOD and UGC, however, are not all subject to the same rules and regulations, with TV bearing a much heavier regulatory burden. The proposed amendment to the Directive aims to address this inconsistency.
Key proposed changes
Promotion of European works
The proposal requires on-demand services to secure a minimum of 20% of their catalogue for European works and to ensure that adequate prominence is given to such works.
Extension of scope
The Directive does not currently apply to user-generated content offered on video-sharing platforms, such as YouTube, as the providers of such platforms do not have editorial responsibility for the content that is shared. This extends the scope of the Directive to video-sharing platforms, but only in relation to the protection of minors from harmful content (such as pornography and violence) and the protection of all citizens from incitement to violence and hatred.
Commercial communications are set to be deregulated under the proposed amendment. There will be increased flexibility of the rules for product placement, sponsorship and advertising. Television advertising is currently restricted to a proportion of no greater than 20% of broadcast time each hour. A new provision will replace this hourly limit with a daily restriction of 20% (7am to 11pm). The amended Directive would strengthen provisions to protect minors from inappropriate audiovisual commercial communications of foods high in fat, salt/sodium and sugars and alcohol beverages by, where necessary, encouraging codes of conduct at EU level.
Protection of minors
Rules regarding content which may impair the physical, mental or moral development of minors are to be valid for all AVMS providers without distinction. The most harmful content shall be subject to the strictest measures such as encryption, age verification systems, tools for reporting and flagging certain content and parental control systems.
The independence of audiovisual regulators is to be furthered. Member States shall be required to ensure that Regulators are legally and functionally independent and that their powers are adequate, enshrined in law and exercised impartially and transparently.
In summary, the proposed changes are a step closer to establishing a level playing field across audiovisual media service platforms.