EC rejects mobile broadcasting fears

The European Commission has rejected claims that proposed broadcasting regulations will hit mobile industry players in the pocket

The European Commission (EC) has denied that proposed amendments to broadcasting legislation will adversely affect mobile advertising, after a conglomerate of IT industry players raised concerns that regulations could "stifle the growth" of the industry.

The Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF) said on Tuesday that amendments to the Television without Frontiers (TVwF) Directive — which seeks to regulate new media content broadcasting — could restrict economic growth by imposing advertising controls used for traditional broadcasting onto mobile multimedia services.

However, the EC has now denied this claim, saying all controls for advertising in on-demand content would be light, and claiming that the new rules would lead to economic expansion.

"There will be no restrictions on the amount of advertising on non-linear services," said Martin Selmayr, spokesman for the Digital Information Society and Media Directorate General. "The objective of the EU is to make sure on-demand has a low level of regulation.

"The mobile environment should profit from [the proposed Directive]," Selmayr told ZDNet UK.

The EC is advocating a two-tier approach to broadcast advertising. Current advertising regulations on traditional linear broadcasting will remain, and will be more restrictive than regulations governing on-demand services, which a user "pulls" to their device.

"Pulled content will be subject to minimum rules. Advertisements must be identified — there is a transparency requirement," said Selmayr, who added that ad content must also adhere to basic rules governing incitement to hatred and protection of minors.

The MEF told ZDNet UK that it would push for a period of exemption from legislation to build mobile entertainment business models.

"If mobile is included in a Directive that was primarily designed to involve the linear broadcast model, the current definition could stifle the growth of the nascent mobile entertainment industry," Patrick Parodi, global chair for MEF, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "Mobile should be given breathing room."

However, Selmayr refused to accept that the mobile entertainment industry needed a "grace period" of exemption from the rules, saying operators had already established business models.

"Today the mobile industry is part of daily life and provides all kinds of content. It should abide by minimum rules," said Selmayr.

Under the EC's plans, linear broadcast content will be subject to the more restrictive regulations, regardless of the platform it is viewed on.

"If you want to watch the news in real time, that cannot be interrupted by ads [for more than 20 percent of an hour]," said Selmayr.

But if the content is specifically made available for on-demand, the minimum rules apply.

"Mobile content provided in the UK will only be subject to UK legislation, and UK-based service providers would be able to offer the service in the whole of the EU," said Selmayr. "In the UK, alcohol adverts aren't banned. If you travel in Ireland, where alcohol ads are banned, you will still get them," said Selmayr.

The Mobile Entertainment Forum claimed that the issue of branded content also needed to be explored in the mobile medium. Current EU-wide traditional or linear broadcasting regulations do not prohibit product placement — legislation is currently left to individual member states.

The Commission said the current proposals will relax the rules governing product placement in many countries.

"[The Directive] liberalises product placement," said Selmayr. "Unusually, the EC has been accused of being ultra-liberal. Member states have different rules, but most ban product placement [at the moment]."

Selmayr said that under the proposed rules the consumer should be informed of content containing product placement. Branded content will not be allowed in news or children's programmes.

The EC has sought to reassure stakeholders that the proposed legislation will be light, but opposition from many sides remains. Selmayr said that "there seems to be an attitude problem" in the UK, with reasons given for opposition having "nothing to do with the Directive".