On demand video streaming services like Netflix could be required to source at least a fifth of the programming they offer in the European Union from that region and ensure adequate prominence of such works. In practice this reflects current levels of provision. A report from the European Audiovisual Observatory provides a useful overview of the existing Audiovisual Media Services Directive and the proposed reforms.

The European Commission has proposed an update to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive as part of its digital single market strategy.

The proposals include regulation of video-sharing platforms, a stronger role for audiovisual regulators, a quota for on-demand providers to include at least 20% of European content in their catalogues, and more flexibility in advertising airtime for broadcasters.

“I want online platforms and the audiovisual and creative sectors to be powerhouses in the digital economy, not weigh them down with unnecessary rules,” said Andrus Ansip, the vice-president for the digital single market. “This means not changing existing rules that work, such as those related to the liability of online service providers. It also means deregulating where necessary for traditional sectors like broadcasting, or extending certain obligations to platforms and other digital players to improve user protection and to reach a level-playing field.”

“The way we watch TV or videos may have changed, but our values don’t,” added Günther Oettinger, the commissioner for the digital economy and society. “With these new rules, we will uphold media pluralism, the independence of audiovisual regulators and will make sure incitement to hatred will have no room on video-sharing platforms. We also want to ensure a level-playing field, responsible behaviour, trust and fairness in the online platforms environment.”

The proposals include provisions to protect young viewers, including a requirement that programmes that may impair the physical, mental or moral development are online made available, whether by broadcast or on demand, in such a way as to ensure that minors will not normally hear or see them. Particularly violent or pornographic material would require measures such as age verification or pin codes.

Television broadcasters are currently obliged to invest 20% of their revenues in commissioning or producing original programming, which is supposed to fill at least half their airtime.

Online services like Netflix already offer a lot of European programming. Much of this currently comes from the United Kingdom. In the event that the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union, other member states could have the right to require service providers to invest in or acquire programming made in the region, or pay a levy into a shared production fund.

There are already quotas in more than half the member states of the European Union, ranging from 10% to 60%.

The European Commission recognises that over a fifth of the films offered by Netflix and iTunes are already classed as European productions. Across 75 video on demand catalogues the share of films classified as European is around 27%, rising to 30% across 16 online video subscription services.

Smaller players and specialist services would be exempt from the proposed quota requirements.

The commission claims that strengthening the promotion of European works for on-demand services will lead to a broader and more diverse offer for Europeans. This will have a positive impact on cultural diversity and bring more opportunities for European creators.

The revised directive would need to be ratified by European legislators and even if adopted and transposed into national legislation it would need to be enforced by national regulators.

The European Audiovisual Observatory has published a free report on background to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive and the proposed revisions.

Proposal for an updated Audiovisual Media Services Directive is published by the digital single market initiative of the European Commission. On-demand services and the material scope of the AVMSD is published by the European Audiovisual Observatory.