CONNECTED TV STRATEGY: LEVEL PLAYING FIELD OR PARADOX?
DG Information Society is working at a policy paper on Connected TV, due to be issued by the end of the year. Good news, one would say. Smart TVs, like tablet PCs and other connected devices will play a huge role in pushing EU families online increasing the chances of meeting the digital agenda targets. As demand for broadband increases, and especially the one driven by bandwidth-hungry services, the business case for rolling out NGN will develop accordingly.
And yet the angle taken in this exploration of Connected TV and related services is not clear, while broadcasters are very vocal in expressing their concerns about the growing number of on-demand services and applications that can be received through Smart TVs, leading to a “fragmentation of the audiences”. They claim the need for a level playing field, pressuring the Commission to ensure that all kinds of content-based services delivered to the end-users are subject to the same set of rules regarding advertising, protection of minors and so forth.
This is exactly why the TV without Frontiers Directive underwent, just a few years ago, a long re-styling process at the end of which it was reissued in its existing format as “Audiovisual Media Services Without Frontiers” Directive.
Well, the AVMSD establishes that when content is delivered to the end-user, no matter through which network, as long as it is subject to some “editorial activity”, should be considered a media service and subject to specific rules. For this purpose, the AVMSD creates a two tiers regulation distinguishing linear media (the TV services based on a schedule and subject to the classic television rules) from “non-linear”, i.e. on-demand media services, based on the creation of a catalogue and subject to a different set of rules.
Problem solved then. Not really.
For the supporters of a stricter Internet regulation, the AVMSD is still leaving a number of services – User Generated Content to name one – out of the scope of application of the Directive. And so the policy exercise may end up extending the concept of editorial control to UGC platforms or even social networks.
On the other end though, one could argue that applying television rules to any service based on on-demand streamed video, let alone extending this even to other kind of applications, is creating a paradox, rather than a level playing field.
Take for instance an e-commerce marketplace selling or renting physical DVDs online. Should it decide to give its users the choice to stream instantly the content they acquire rather than having it delivered on DVD via mail, it would immediately be labeled as a media service and subject to the AVMS regulation.
Although maintaining the same activity and business model, the streaming-based part of the marketplace would be unjustifiably subject to a set of rules not applying to the physical DVD-based business. In some countries, such as Italy for instance, in which non linear media services are subject to an even stricter regime than the one established by the Directive, the e-commerce marketplace should apply for a specific authorization and likely remove a relevant number of titles from its catalogue, as the Italian law has basically put traditional TV and non-linear services very much on the same level when it comes to protection of minors.
Enough to discourage any e-commerce platforms from providing “watch instantly” streaming services, and somehow in contradiction with the overall strategy of the EU Commission of increasing e-commerce by 50% by the end of 2015 and encouraging the dematerialization of services and the take-up of high speed broadband. Like in the case of reduced VAT for books not applied to e-books, this seems another example of bits-based businesses put at disadvantage compared to its atom-based version. Not a good news for the development of New Generation Networks, considering how the investment plans of network operators are highly dependant from a boost in the demand for good quality, high bandwidth Internet connections.