The European Parliament is taking a particular interest in connected television, proposing a motion for review of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive and other legislation that would have far-reaching consequences for consumer electronics manufacturers and service providers. The Eurocrats seem to want to preserve the privileged position of public service broadcasters but may risk restricting innovation in connected television as a result. The industry has hit back with its own views, arguing there is no case for further regulation of this emerging market.
The Committee on Culture and Education has produced a report on connected television calling for the Commission to implement regulations to “prevent providers of such receiving devices or suppliers of the services in question from exploiting their gatekeeper position in a way which discriminates against content providers”.
The report was prepared by Petra Kammerevert, a German politician who previously consulted for the public service broadcaster ARD. It calls for regulation “to create a level playing field for all content providers” while public broadcasters and others should have “an appropriately privileged status with regard to findability on hybrid platforms” and “be assigned the most prominent position on platforms”. The motion suggests the need for a ‘must be found’ approach, comparable to ‘must carry’ requirements.
Furthermore, the motion calls “to ensure that these platforms are operated on the basis of an open, non-proprietary standard” and “that platform services and portal services are interoperable, so that, if possible, content need only be prepared once” and “giving third parties equal opportunities, without discrimination, to produce and market their own applications”.
It goes on to call for legislation to ensure “that all content is as a matter of principle made available to the same quality standard on networks and platforms”. It also calls “to prohibit the overlay or scaling of these services with third-party content, unless the latter have been authorised by the content provider and explicitly initiated by the user”.
The motion emphasises that “unauthorised use or dissemination by third parties of the content or broadcast signals of a provider must likewise be prevented”.
Finally, it calls on the Commission to ensure that television and online services can be used anonymously and that “monitoring and exploitation of the user’s behaviour by manufacturers of devices or by third parties is not normally allowed, being permitted only with the witting and unambiguous consent of the user”.
The motion is apparently intended to maintain the position of public service broadcasters in the face of innovations from device and display manufacturers and service providers.
DigitalEurope, which represents the interests of over 100 members, including Apple, Intel and Microsoft, and the major multinational display manufacturers LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp and Sony, among other global corporations, has responded powerfully.
The organisation argues that the consumer electronics industry “enables content to be made accessible anytime, anywhere, on many devices” and that “Connected TV extends media pluralism and significantly augments, rather than limits, the richness of access to content”.
“The choice of the presentation and possible combinations of different content on one screen should be determined and owned by the consumer,” it says. Regulation is therefore “not warranted and would carry significant risks of stifling innovation and thereby threatening the development of the nascent market of Connected TV altogether”.
“The concept of ‘must be found requirements’ carries significant potential for discrimination among content providers,” it continues.
“Discrimination or outright prohibition of the use of proprietary technology is not acceptable, as the ability to compete on technology is a precondition for innovation. Interoperability and open solutions are not threatened by proprietary solutions and the market has already proven to deliver interoperability without regulatory intervention.”
Finally, it says: “The actual proposals laid out in the report are inconsistent with current practice in the linear broadcast market environment. They are even more questionable in terms of practicability for Connected TV.”
DigitalEurope concludes: “Any regulation foreseeing particular device characteristics without establishing a specific market failure would present a significant intervention in the emergence of this market, and would potentially hinder the development of innovative, consumer-friendly models.”
It seems the connected television world has enough problems without European regulators legislating on how devices and displays should implement technology and present programming. The proposals appear impractical, since they would potentially affect many market leading products and services.
Despite the apparent desirability of many of the measures proposed, with a wide choice of connected television devices and displays, consumers of products and services will ultimately determine what is acceptable.
The Draft Report on Connected TV was issued by the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament and is available from the European Parliament web site.