The government has published plans to regulate video-on-demand services in the United Kingdom. The proposals are part of a consultation on the implementation of the European Audio Visual Media Services directive. This introduces common standards for the regulation of video-on-demand, including online and mobile services.

The directive came into force in December 2007. European member states have until the end of 2009 to implement it in their domestic law. It replaces the existing Television Without Frontiers directive, adopted in 1989 and amended in 1997.

Under the new directive there is an obligation to ensure that video-on-demand services meet new European standards. It aims to provide a ‘co-regulatory’ approach, operated by industry but backed by powers for the government of a national authority such as Ofcom to intervene if necessary. The consultation seeks views on a number of different options designed to achieve this.

It means that some online and mobile services could be regulated on similar terms to television. It applies to a service which is under the editorial responsibility of a media service provider and the principal purpose of which is the provision of programmes in order to inform, educate or entertain the general public by means of electronic communications networks.

“While citizens embrace the opportunities offered by massively increased choice of content, and can watch on demand on TVs, online or phones, it is right that the same standards apply,” said Andy Burnham, the secretary of state for culture.

The BBC Trust is currently responsible for programming standards on the BBC video-on-demand services, including the online BBC iPlayer. Other video-on-demand services currently come under a voluntary self-regulatory body, the Association for Television on Demand or ATVOD. There is also an industry body for video on mobile services, the Independent Mobile Classification Body or IMCB. Advertising in video-on-demand services is overseen by a self-regulatory arrangement through the Advertising Standards Authority.

A new regulatory structure may be required under the European directive, backed by legislation.

Other aspects of the consultation concern product placement in television programmes and controls over content of non-European satellite channels that are uplinked from the United Kingdom.

The consultation document and details of the new directive are available from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport web site. Consultations close on 31 October 2008. Further information about the AVMS directive is available on the European Commission web site.