House of Lords Suggests Internet Broadcasters Should Not Be Regulated

by Five Fantastic Lawyers™ on November 4, 2007

A House of Lords parliamentary sub-committee in the UK is putting up resistance to some of the proposed changes to the Audiovisual Media Services (AMS) Directive of the European Union, which mainly affect internet broadcasters. The aim of the original set of regulations established in 1989, and known as “Television Without Frontiers” because it included satellite broadcasts spanning several countries, was to establish a common broadcast policy across all European Union member states. The adverts carried by broadcasters had to comply with certain rules (including not promoting tobacco and prescription drugs), limited product placements and paid sponsorship deals were permitted, but advertising in general could not take up more than 15% of the total transmission time of each broadcaster.

Following the explosive growth of internet connectivity and the rise of so called “new media”, the EU member states decided Television Without Frontiers needed a second overhaul to the one made in 1997 to cover this new era of broadcasters. The name also underwent an overhaul, becoming the AMS Directive. Sub-Committee B of the Lords European Union Committee have aired their concerns in a report, saying that some of the proposed changes will unfairly disadvantage new broadcasters, allowing established players to continue their dominance of the market.

The Sub-Committee has also expressed their doubt that further restrictions are even necessary due today’s competitive market conditions. Lord Freeman and the other Lords involved in the Committee believe that additional legislation is no longer necessary because consumers have a whopping 1,500 TV channels across Europe to choose from, compared to only 500 in 1989. This gives them enough scope to choose how much advertising they are subjected to. The Committee is also concerned about the stifling of the UK’s online advertising market. Broadband penetration in the UK is much higher than in the US at a massive 47.4% and online advertising is currently seeing massive growth of over 40% per annum. This is evidenced by the fact that Google UK expects to overtake traditional broadcaster Channel 4’s advertising revenues this year. Even online broadcasts by the BBC could be affected, as well as other internet based services such as YouTube, because the additional rules of the AMS would cover

“any moving images, both with sound and without, in order to entertain or educate or inform the public by communications networks of an electronic nature”.

New media businesses are doing well and starting to get into their stride, which makes the Lords wary of adversely affecting them with new regulations, even though they generally accept the need for reform of the AMS. Since the country that currently holds the presidency of the European Union, Germany, has set the end of June for finalising the AMS, the House of Lords need to act quickly if they want to see any changes to the proposed reforms, or potentially risk any potential recovery in the UK economy.

Rob is an audio visual engineer at Reflex AV, and as part of the online community and increasingly working in the business of online broadcasting he feels strongly about the regulation of UK broadcasters, keep it free!

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