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EU: “Television Without Frontiers” Directive

The core regulatory work of the European Commission revolves around the creation of a working single market across the 25 member states of the European Union. The EU has developed a lot of other areas of interest but the economic issues have been a prime concern since its inception.A discussion I was involved in last week highlighted for me the challenges of trying to do this against a backdrop of a rapidly evolving global information society. This was on proposals to revise something called the Television Without Frontiers Directive. The Commission is seeking to impose a basic tier of regulation on all audiovisual services, including those delivered over the internet or mobile phones. Their rationale for this is that it is necessary to ensure that suppliers of these services can sell across the single market without further regulation. The regulatory process will take a while to complete so any new rules may come into force from around 2008-9. This is against a backdrop of Google launching the beta of video.google.com which we can expect to develop significantly, along with a host of other competing services, between now and the new regulations being completed. When the new regulations come into effect these video services will presumably be told that they must comply with the EU-wide regulations or be subject to 25 different sets of national regulation or cease operating in the EU. If, as is likely, there are by then mature global services that are popular with European customers then we can anticipate an interesting power-play between regulators and service providers.The current situation in respect of online gambling may offer pointers as to how this could play out for audio-visual services, with an element of role-reversal between EU and US. UK-based gambling companies offer their services globally and say that it is up to local regulators in countries like the US to enforce their gambling rules on their own citizens. The stock market has expressed its view of the likelihood of gambling regulators effectively controlling behaviour by pouring hundreds of millions of pounds into gambling companies that draw revenue from a sizeable US user base. Investors in US-based audio-visual content services may make a similar judgement about the ability of EU regulators to impose rules on how their content is delivered or presented.

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