EC regulators set sights on new media markets
European bureaucrats are threatening to significantly widen advertising restrictions to the alarm of new media bosses.
A series of leading industry figures warned that proposals by the European Commission, which could become law by 2010, would bring new sectors such as the internet, mobile and video-on demand under scrutiny, threatening development and creativity just as new business models are emerging.
The Westminster Forum was told the EC is to rip up its so-called Television Without Frontiers directive, which currently only covers the TV industry, and come up with a far wider so-called "audio visual content directive".
With even a senior UK government official warning that elements of the EC's plans are "completely out of touch with reality", the proposed legislation, which could lead to the UK's Communications Bill being rewritten within five years, has worried new media bosses.
"What I see is regulators chasing around trying to regulate for a business they know nothing about," I-Level founder Andrew Walmsley told the forum. While existing legislation covering TV contains rules on limits on advertising minuteage and the ban on product placement, new regulations will cover all visual broadcasts, with or without sound, and could even include radio.
"It's critical we allow the UK creative industry to innovate without the threat of regulation hanging over their heads," said Andrew Burke, chief executive of BT Entertainment.
Yet Ofcom partner Tim Suter said he welcomed the chance to clarify regulation of advertising and Chris Graham, director general of the Advertising Standards Association, said that TV and radio benefited from Ofcom acting as "the big stick in the cupboard".
Graham argued: "If the advertising industry wants to rely on self-regulation, it's got to prove that it is serious about corporate responsibility and that it doesn't try to get away with things in new media just because it can."
One senior internet company boss summed up the feelings of many afterwards. "My real fear is not that one or two bureaucrats in Brussels are going to suddenly clamp down on our businesses, but that it will encourage UK regulators to extend their remit."
Under the proposed rules, so-called linear media, such as TV, would be subject to a ban on tobacco ads and crackdowns on alcohol and medical advertising.
Others, such as video-on-demand services and websites, classed as non-linear, would be subject to regulation by Brussels.
Simon Pitts, controller of regulatory affairs at ITV, said it was only fair other sectors came under scrutiny. "The pace of change in the sector is eroding the case for singling out TV for special regulatory treatment," he said.
"In 2010, the linear analogue viewer will not quite be extinct, but he soon will be; PVR [personal video recorder] usage may well be the norm and new delivery platforms like broadband TV and mobile TV are likely to be well established."
This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk
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