There are more than 700 different video-on-demand and catch-up television services in Europe. These will be covered by the new European Audiovisual Media Services Directive which is currently being implemented in national laws in European Union member states. Maintaining the distinction between services that are similar to television and other online video offerings will be increasingly difficult as the market develops.

A study by the European Audiovisual Observatory identified 696 services from 366 different providers that were operational at the end of 2008. Of these, 145 were in the United Kingdom, 106 in France and 93 in Italy.

Over half the services were delivered over the internet, 30% were IPTV services delivered over a DSL network, 7% were on cable and 3% via satellite.

The survey did not take into account services delivered to mobile phones, web sites providing information, trailers or adult programmes, or video sharing sites like YouTube or Dailymotion.

Around 40% of the services come from traditional television, satellite and cable providers, while 17% come from telecommunications companies.

Not surprisingly, the study concludes that the markets for on-demand services are very fragmented. It observes that catch-up television services are rapidly becoming established, but paid video-on-demand has been slow to take off, while the profitability of free services supported by advertising is uncertain.

It appears that the United Kingdom leads Europe in the proliferation of new forms of video-on-demand. The study found 76 different internet services in the United Kingdom, 34 IPTV services, 6 on cable, 4 on satellite and 25 on terrestrial networks.

It is not entirely clear how they came up with these numbers. The definition employed was based on that of the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive, according to the editorial control of a service, rather than the management of a distribution platform.

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive covers both traditional television or linear services and video-on-demand or non-linear services. These services must be directed at the general public and intended to inform, entertain and educate under the editorial responsibility of a media service provider.

Replacing the former Television Without Frontiers Directive, The AVMS Directive was adopted by European member states on 11 December 2007, giving them two years to transpose this into national law.

In the United Kingdom, services such as BBC iPlayer, 4OD, ITV Player, SkyPlayer and Demand Five will come under the scope of this regulation from 19 December 2009. The communications regulator Ofcom proposes to delegate regulation to the Association for Television On-Demand, ATVOD, and the ASA or Advertising Standards Authority.

The intended scope only covers “TV-like” services rather than general web sites, but the distinction is likely to be difficult to maintain as online video services develop. YouTube is cited as an example of an service offering unmoderated user generated material, although it will soon include professionally produced programming from broadcasters like Channel Four.

Video on demand and catch-up TV in Europe is published by the European Audiovisual Observatory and the Direction du Développement des Médias with the NPA Conseil.