UK broadcasters BBC and Channel 4 and industry bodies FIAPF and EFADs are among more than 400 organisations and private individuals who responded to the European Commission’s (EC) public consultation on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD)
The UK was the EU Member State generating the most written contributions to the consultation’s questionnaire with 49 responses, followed by Germany (31), Belgium (29) and France and Italy (24 each).
According to the Commission, an initial survey of the responses identified a ¨convergence of views¨ regarding the need for possible changes to the rules on the scope of the Directive’s application; ¨support for maintaining the status quo¨ concerning such issues as the country of origin principle; but ¨no clear consensus¨, for example, on the Directive’s provisions for the promotion of Europeann works.
The big picture
As to the question of revising the Directive, the UK producers’ association PACT supported the principle ¨that, where possible, it is better for the market to be left to evolve and adapt solutions to the opportunities and issues raised by convergence rather than for regulation to be introduced as they might have a negative impact on growth,¨ while Channel 4 argued that ¨a policy appraisal should not see a radical change for its own sake.¨
The European Producers Club suggested in its deposition that the results of the AVMSD are ¨varied and insufficient¨ and that regulation has been ¨very unequally applied from one country to another and from one support to another, the obligations are not the same for all operators and numerous digital platforms are taking advantage of a too vague legislation.¨
Meanwhile, the Association of Commercial Television (ACT) declared that ¨the era of TV-only regulation is over, and European regulation of our sector needs to adapt to this new environment¨, pointing out that ¨what is lacking to date is the high-political vision¨ and its desire for ¨a wide-ranging, strategic overhaul of EU regulation.¨
In addition, the Brussels-based Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA) suggested that there was a need for ¨clarification of the application of the AVMS Directive to most services offering audiovisual works, including when uploaded by users, to achieve a European level playing field and stable and readable legal environment for all.¨
The UK’s BBC argued that ¨ in the evolving environment, audience expectation should continue to guide the approach to content regulation. Regulation should be proportionate to audience consumption and realistic.¨
A joint document by producers association FIAPF, Independent Film & Television Alliance (ITVA) and International Video Federation (IVF) was more positive about the achievements of the AVMSD saying that the Directive had ¨provided clarity as well as flexibility and, at the same time, encouraged growth and sustainability in a diverse market for the dissemination of films and audiovisual works across Europe.¨
Linear and non-linear services
The international distributors federation FIAD argued that now was ¨not the right time to open the AVMSD to extend the scope to new online services given that the online market is still at an early stage of development¨, adding tha its members see online as ¨a possible future venture rather than a present reality.¨
Meanwhile, Fox International Channels suggested that ¨it is not a matter of extending the current rules to all the new actors. It is more a question of outlining a new set of basic principles and rules that all players should adhere to.¨
At the same time, the Swedish Film Distributors Association pointed out that the regulatory framework is ¨currently being jeopardised by the growing illegal and unfair competition in the form of downlaod and streaming services of pirated films and television shows.¨
However, the UK’s OFCOM watchdog observed that the the possible expansion of AVMS regulation to cover providers operating outside EU jurisdiction should be ¨approached with caution¨ as there was the risk of being ¨disportionate and impractical.¨
Level playing field
The international exhibitors association UNIC voiced one demand shared by many within the film industry, by calling for a ‘level playing field’ between VoD services and cinema operators ¨in terms of mandatory contributions to public film funding, when and where they exist¨ and that ¨international VoD platform providers should contribute to national film funds - when and where applicable - if they create revenues on the basis of selling films in countries where such obligations exist for other players in the value chain.¨
Moreover, European Distribution said that ¨there is a need for a more harmonised regulation between broadcasters and online platforms including user-generated content ones,¨ while World Cinema Alliance feared ¨a situation similar to the shipping industry with abuses of ¨flag of convenience¨ developing around the Internet¨ and the SAA noted that ¨ on-demand services, in particular non-EU services, can use the country of origin principle to cherry pick the location of their European headquarters. This creates unfair competition between services and a race to the bottom for Member States.¨
However, the BBC countered that ¨not having country of origin would mean a significant increase in costs as each programme would have to be re-complied to different broadcast standards in each country, limiting the ability of providers to deliver the aims of the Digital Single Market.¨
And Channel 4 stressed that ¨country of origin should continue to remain a fundamental principle of a future AVMS Directive.¨
Indeed, describing the country of origin principle ¨a cornerstone of the current directive¨, Fox International Channels (FIC) explained that, ¨from a practical perspective, country of origin allows FIC to maximise its investment in programming by facilitating consistency in its editorial strategy, by reducing regulatory uncertainty, and by enabling targeted investment in human capital and thus reducng unnecessary resource overheads.¨
Promotion of European works
Turning to the question of regulating the promotion of European/domestic content, the UK Government noted that ¨such a supply side intervention is more successful rather than intervening on the demand side through quotas¨, and OFCOM said that it considered ¨the current provisions ensure that European works are adequately represented in schedule without undermining viewer choice or a pluralistic media.¨
The Commercial Broadcasters Association COBA pointed to the ¨increasingly dynamic¨ market for non-domestic European UK in the UK with such series as The Bridge, Borgen and Occupied, ¨ arguing that these successes highlight ¨the importance of allowing broadcasters and audiences to take an audience-driven approach to content rather than focusing on requirements to provide a certain amount of hours of a particular type of content.¨
World Cinema Alliance, on the other hand, said the the Commission was ¨over-optimistic¨ about the success of rules on promoting European audiovisual works.
¨If the EU is serious about promoting films made in one EU state in another, then it should support filmmakers more. One way of doing this is to fund sub-titling and dubbing,¨ the Alliance concluded.
Meanwhile, European Distribution painted a rather gloomy picture of the presence of European works in linear and non-linear services: ¨There is no real diversity in genre or origin in the offer, and where there is, the less commercial films find themselves relegated in difficult slots or on smaller, niche channels.¨
¨As a result, consumer’s choice is reduced and it may have an impact on their interest in film and shape their taste,¨ the organisation said, proposing the introduction of additional quotas for non-national European works to focus on the recentness of the films; more and better time slots on television; and harmonisation for on-demand services for an obligatory share of European films and a minimum of promotion and editorialisation of content
¨It is the real presence of European works on linear and on-linear services that is at stake,¨ European Distribution argued.
The results of the Commission’s ongoing analysis of the responses to the consultation will feed into the REFIT evaluation and Impact Assessment accompanying any legislative proposal for the AVMSD in 2016.