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UK regulator passes the buck over VOD regulation

UK communications regulator Ofcom has confirmed it will continue to share regulation for VOD services with agency Atvod, following a review started in March 2012. This came two years after Atvod was first awarded the role as co-regulator for VOD. The significance is that, over time, Atvod is likely to assume sole responsibility for VOD content, splintering the UK TV regulatory scene between on demand and linear broadcasting.

Ofcom has stated that Atvod has performed well in its key tasks of identifying the scope of regulation, enforcement of regulatory fees, and setting content standards. Atvod’s scope has now been widened with the ability to decide whether a service should fall under its regulation, without first having to refer to Ofcom. This paves the way for Atvod to take over full control of on demand content regulation in the future.

For now, any scheduled service, whether provided over the Internet or traditional broadcast medium, will continue to fall underOfcom’s remit, while services that allow the viewer to choose what they watch have been outsourced to Atvod since 2010. But, one of the criticisms has been that this allows some services to slip between the two nets, with lack of clarity over whether they should be regulated by Ofcom or Atvod.

This matters for the service provider, which can end up paying Atvod’s commercial membership fees unfairly, as has been argued by some music channels and newspapers providing video embedded into web pages. This led music channel MTV, as well as some newspapers, to appeal to Ofcom for exemption from paying fees to Atvod, which resulted from been classified as on demand video services.

After ruling first in favor of Atvod, Ofcom reversed its thinking and came down on the side of the newspapers and MTV. But, critics continue to argue that this leaves the UK TV regulatory scene in a mess with responsibility for VOD outsourced in this way. Meanwhile, the field is not standing still, with on-demand services gaining ground fast in the UK driven by the BBC iPlayer catch up service and also pay TV multiscreen options such as Sky Now. With on demand accounting for an ever-increasing proportion of TV viewing, the logic is that Atvod will gradually rise from being the secondary to the dominant TV regulator in the UK.

The UK situation is being followed with interest in the rest of Europe, which is also agonizing over the regulatory impact of connected TV in general. European broadcasters will be attending a conference in Cyprus October 2012 to examine the impact of the European Union (EU) Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) on Connected TV. The conference, co-organized by the Cyprus Radiotelevision Authority and the EU, will examine the EU’s AVMS directive, which governs coordination of national legislation on all audiovisual media across all 27 EU states, including both traditional TV broadcasts and on-demand services.

Like other goods and services subject to the single European market, the directive sets a minimum set of common rules covering audiovisual media that member states must adhere to.