According to the European Commission’s public consultation document, the EU AVMS Directive has fostered unhindered cross-border transmission of audiovisual media services within Europe. Whilst we in the EPC are happy to agree, the media environment has, however, changed dramatically since the Directive was adopted in 2007. Media convergence is now a reality. The traditional TV set is now only one of the means to watch audiovisual content as Connected TV, set-top boxes, but also PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones are increasingly used.
Whilst it is true that the AVMS consultation is mainly directed at the audiovisual sector at large, it does also touch upon issues that may directly or indirectly impact online platforms and global players, but also online publishing and in particular the freedom of the press.
When we are talking to EU legislators, we are often asked for facts, figures and statistics. In response to these requests, four years ago, we began to publish a series of annual research reports on current trends in digital media under the title “Global Media Trends” to help inform those people drafting legislation that may have an impact on our industry, and therefore a possible impact on the freedom of the press.
The data in our most recently published report backs up the experience of our members and demonstrates clearly that a seismic transformation in content development from news, to entertainment and all manner of publishing offers is taking place in the magazine and newspaper industries and that the lines between traditional and new media services and between professional and non-professional journalism and content creation are blurring all the time. We realize that this poses a difficult problem for regulators in Brussels who are tasked with boosting Europe’s digital economy and confronted with many different commercial interests in a very different media world than we were experiencing back in 2007 when the directive was last revised.
The data in our reports show an incredibly fast pace of change, not just from 2007 to now but even from last year to this. Surging global consumption of video across digital devices is driving demand for publishers to produce high-quality video. Billions of videos of all genres are viewed each day on a variety of digital devices. The opportunities to exploit video as a traffic driver and a revenue producer are staggering and will be an important driver of growth in the EU Digital Single Market.
For example, in the US, the number of people using mobile to read newspapers has gone from less than 40% in March 2014 to more than 70% in March 2015; and that’s not the only major shift:
- Reading an article and or news story are in the top five activities on Facebook
- Internet advertising spend is poised to overtake television ad spend worldwide for the first time
- Mobile advertising is growing nine times faster than desktop internet advertising expenditure and is predicted to account for 40.4% of ad spend by 2017 compared to 22.1% in 2014
- Tablet penetration in Western Europe will more than double to nearly 60% by 2019
- Smart phone penetration is surging globally and expected to reach 80% by 2019 in Western Europe and North America (doubled from 2015)
- Social networking is the number one online activity in every country, followed by micro-blogging (eg Twitter) or online press
- From 2009 to 2015, mobile-driven web traffic grew from 0.7% to 33.4%
- Publisher content referrals from social media are outpacing search engine referrals, up by 179% from 2013. Meanwhile, less than 10% of publishers’ online traffic comes directly to their home pages
These are just snap-shot statistics from our extensive Global Media Trends Book which brings to life the fast-moving digital world, a world that has changed dramatically since 2007, both in terms of content delivery and consumer behaviour. The current AVMS Directive excludes the press from its scope, and for good reason because even though all kinds of content from multiple sources can be viewed on the same screen their origins and purpose differ. We believe that this exclusion is still valid today and will continue to be so in the future because the press, whether it is consumed off-line, online, on a device or via a platform on which a consumer can also watch a TV programme, needs to fulfil its role as an independently funded, unlicensed media enterprise, upholding the values of democracy, with the freedom to report and comment widely and investigate those in power.
In terms of how viewers consume audiovisual content, there has been further blurring, since the adoption of the AVMS directive, of the boundaries between linear and non-linear audiovisual services as more and more online services are made available by broadcasters and VOD platforms, increasing competition and choice at the consumer level but causing a distortion of ‘regulatory’ competition.
Today it is largely up to the viewers when, where and on what device they consume the audiovisual content available where they live. Consumers are well served: they continue to have an increasing choice between a growing number of services, some broadcast-based, some internet-native.
The above, in combination with the emergence of a globalised and powerful alternative VOD provision, challenges the current providers and makes everybody wonder if the obligations on TV broadcasters alone are indeed unfair.
Those competing players and newer markets are no longer in their infancy and given that the regulation should be forward-looking, those developments should be taken into account to ensure European broadcasters are not unfairly burdened.
Current television sets, the so-called Smart TVs, allow Europeans to access both linear (compliant with full AVMSD rules) and non-linear (compliant with less strict AVMSD rules) content. As the two types of services are available on the same platform/set, applying different levels of rules are no longer justified. Perhaps definitions should be reviewed to clarify the role of these new players.
From a publisher’s perspective, newspapers, magazines and journals are cross border and all publishers now have web-based and mobile apps that are accessible to readers throughout the EU and beyond. For us, as with any business likely to cross borders, what is essential is legal certainty. Legal certainty that whatever we distribute will be legally acceptable wherever it ends up; legal certainty that we will not be subject to 28 different legal systems in the 28 different Member States of the European Union – and potentially liable for a panoply of legal actions differing from one country to another.
This is especially relevant for the media sector, which bases its business on the dissemination of professional journalistic and quality content, without fear of either prior control or restrictions to free circulation. To prevent any such attempts at restriction, all EU regulation that touches on the media sector, even indirectly, should:
- always in a very clear and straightforward way stress that it cannot in any way be used to limit freedom of expression;
- ensure that any revision to provisions on advertising must not negatively affect the online press business model;- always use the country of origin principle, so that no EU member state government is able to impede the dissemination of the media which is legally compliant at the country of origin; and
- pass the proportionality test favouring self-regulation rather than statutory regulation when possible.
- Public consultation deadline was September 2015
- Commission proposal expected June 2016