The Internet Is Not TV
The Internet is not TV – and this is clear to anyone who watches TV and who surfs the Internet. While content available on TV follows a specific editorial line and targets a specific audience, content available on online hosting services is many and varied and the host does not decide what is there or what its purpose is.
This distinction is played down by those obsessed with the ‘level playing field’ question, as so many are in the Brussels bubble. Thus, a review of the Audiovisual and Media Services Directive (AVMSD) – the current EU legislation on TV broadcasting and ‘TV-like’ on-demand services such as Netflix or CanalPlay – has been launched. And one of its key questions is to determine whether this European audiovisual regulation should apply to online hosting services such as YouTube, DailyMotion or Facebook.
Let’s state something obvious once again – the answer is no. Firstly, online hosting services are already regulated by rules, such as the e-commerce directive, consumer protection regulations and unfair commercial practices rules. Secondly, the most important objectives pursued by the AVMSD have already been fulfilled by online hosting services.
One important goal of the AVMSD is, for instance, to ensure that minors do not access inappropriate content. Online hosting services have been working for years to develop internet-adapted methods to protect minors, demonstrating that innovative projects and self regulation can best protect children in the fast moving Internet era. Community guidelines, ways to flag inappropriate content, websites/apps or channels dedicated to children and appropriate advertising guidelines are now widely used. Additionally, industry-wide coalitions have also been launched to educate children, such as the “CEO coalition to make the Internet a better place for kids” – which is supported by… the European Commission. Worth noting as well: on TV, minor protection is mainly ensured through age ratings and by broadcasting more “adult” programs late at night. As all content on the Internet is available at any place and time, applying TV-created minor protections standards on online hosting services makes no sense.
The AVMSD also allows some Member States of the EU to impose domestic content quotas to promote European content. However, there is no rational justification to impose similar obligations on online hosting services. Internet users already have access to a lot more content (including content produced by European citizens and European companies) than even 20 years ago thanks to the Internet, and they can very easily find and watch European content online should they wish to. Additionally, such an obligation is difficult to justify as the European audiovisual sector has been consistently growing since the beginning of the 21st century. For example, Germany has produced 216 films in 2009, an increase of 48% from 2005 – and the European box office gross reached €6.4 billion in 2011, an increase of 0.7% from 2010.
Further, culture is thriving on the Internet! Digital media has driven a €30 billion growth in the creative sector between 2001 and 2011. Movies like Veronica Mars have been produced thanks to fans contributing financially. We’re even seeing very innovative ways to adapt classic works through multiple media formats (videos, tweets, Facebook posts, etc.) from companies such as Pemberley Digital. Its adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as the video-blog series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” even won the Outstanding Interactive Program award at the Creative Arts Emmys in 2013.
These examples show how ill-suited the AVMSD would be for regulating online hosting services. Policymakers should remember that the AVMSD was created for TV broadcasting and ‘TV-like’ on-demand services such as Netflix or CanalPlay, and structured according to the degree of control available to consumers with regards to their choice of content. While its “graduated regulatory approach” is still very relevant today for TV broadcasting and ‘TV-like’ on-demand services, that’s not the case for online hosting services where content is user-generated and users have the highest degree of control at their disposal regarding their choice of content.
No important regulatory gaps with regards to the main public policy objectives of regulators have been identified. To “level the playing field” by imposing inappropriate obligations on online hosting services so as to “help” the broadcasting industry is also happily unnecessary: innovation, finances and content production in linear broadcasting are extremely robust in the Internet era. In 2014, for instance, broadcast-based TV advertising revenues increased by 3.9% in the UK, and in France 36.6% of all advertising revenues belonged to TV broadcasting, while all Internet advertising revenues were below 17%.
The strength of TV broadcasting is to be celebrated, as a source of economic growth for the EU. However, to apply a “TV-like construct” such as the AVMSD to online hosting services would be a very poor way to celebrate – as, once again, the Internet is not TV.
Maud Sacquet is Public Policy Manager in the Brussels office of the Computer & Communications Industry Association.