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German Member of the European Parliament for the Social Democratic Party of Germany Petra Kammerevert has proposed a single regulatory framework for TV programming and Internet content seeing that both forms of content can be displayed on Connected TV (as well as game consoles, hybrid set top boxes and Blu-ray players).
"The progressive convergence of differing modes of media transmission demands that we update today's rules to keep pace with technological progress. A European framework must offer solid concepts", said Kammerevert, adding that "Our common aim must be to safeguard the diversity and quality of media in Europe".
In a draft report on 'connected TV' (PDF) for the European Parliament's Committee on Culture and Education, Kammerevert notes that the current provisions of the European Parliament concerning audiovisual media services do not yet take into account these new technical developments and do not fall within the scope of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which may result in unequal competitive conditions and unacceptable discrepancies in the protection of users.
The current Audiovisual Media Services Directive ensures and promotes diversity of opinion and of the media, protects human dignity children, as well as regulates advertising which according to Kammerever, is a matter of principle, and due to hybrid systems which bring together the Internet and TV, these regulations have been watered down - becoming both less effective and less enforceable.
The German MP is calling on the Commission to lay down provisions regulating Connected TV services to prevent the consumer electronics industry (Samsung, LG, Panasonic, etc.) from exploiting their gatekeeper position in a way which discriminates against content providers. She wants the concept of media services as defined in Audiovisual Media Services Directive changed in such a way so that regulation by the Member States is determined more on the basis of the potential impact of services and specific features of that impact, particularly their relevance to opinion forming and diversity.
"The wealth of content on offer makes findability and nondiscriminatory access to content one of the central issues of connected TV. Creators of platforms and/or portal operators make a preselection of the content which will be available and above all determine whether and how it is prioritised, and they alone decide on the technology to be used in providing it. As a result, the platform operator, portal operator or device manufacturer (all three functions may be combined by one and the same business) controls access to content which has an impact on opinions."
Kammerevert advocates the creation of a level playing field for all content providers to ensure fair competition and guarantee users the chance to choose among a wide range of high-quality services on a footing of equal opportunity and without discrimination, as well as to review industry competition laws concerning advertising.
"To an unprecedented extent, this (Connected TV) gives platform operators and device manufacturers a gatekeeper position which is not currently covered by any media regulation. It therefore seems urgently necessary to amend the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, in particular, to take this new situation into account, because otherwise diversity of opinion and of the services on offer may be jeopardised, as may freedom of information. The strong position of device manufacturers and platform operators may also hamper further rapid market development of hybrid services, as device manufacturers determine the market conditions and technological conditions under which content appears on platforms which they operate. However, free and fair competition among services and content is possible only on the basis of uniform competitive conditions, i.e. in this case an interoperable system which uses uniform technology and is open and responsive to market needs, in relation both to the provider market (cable networks, Pay TV, IPTV) and to the market for receiving devices."
She would like to grant certain content providers (public broadcasters or other content deemed to promote objectives in the public interest) an appropriately privileged status with regard to findability on hybrid platforms (including portals, home pages and EPGs) - particularly to ensure media pluralism and cultural diversity, or which lastingly and demonstrably undertake to carry out duties in the public interest which maintain the quality and independence of reporting and promote diversity of opinion, in which connection service providers with the highest aspirations to comply with such obligations should also be assigned the most prominent position on platforms.
"Existing 'Must-carry' rules need to be supplemented with 'Must-be-found' rules. Those content providers should be given an appropriately privileged status with regard to findability on hybrid platforms (including portals, home pages and EPGs) to which the Member States assign a public broadcasting remit or which help to promote objectives in the public interest, such as ensuring media pluralism and cultural diversity, or which undertake to carry out duties which maintain the quality and independence of reporting and promote diversity of opinion. Those who are subject to the stricter rules for linear and non-linear media services laid down in the Audiovisual Media Services Directive or who voluntarily agree to comply with those rules should therefore have the opportunity to acquire a more prominent position on platforms. Consideration should also be given to new forms of incentive schemes."
Strengthening industry self regulation is also part of proposal as well as insuring that these platforms are operated on the basis of a SINGLE open, non-proprietary standard.
Unauthorised layover of content over content and piracy of content would be prohibited and that user privacy is respected and user data is used only with consent of the viewers.
"Connected TV also has implications for data protection. This must be taken into account both in the development of hybrid devices ('privacy by design') and in the standard settings in a device ('privacy by default'), and particularly concerns the principle of data minimisation, proportionality and purpose limitation. Complete data transparency with reference to gathering, processing, use and transfer of data must be ensured. Without the express consent of the user, personal data may be gathered and used only to the extent necessary in order to facilitate the use of services and to charge the user. Anonymous use of media must remain possible in future without causing any problems, and should be regard as the rule. Analyses of user behaviour and the establishment of user profiles using complete IP addresses (including geo-location) should be allowed only with the witting and unambiguous consent (opt-in) of the user. This must be ensured by legislation."
My thoughts? I commend Petra Kammerevert for bringing the issue to the table, as it is enormously important the discussion takes place.
I am not an anarchist. I believe that kids need to be protected and even perhaps some people need to be protected from their own behaviour. But I support self governing industry bodies rather than government. Mainly because I support both the freedom of the Internet and the concept of Net Neutrality of which a founding principle is that governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.
And this proposed government legislation essentially violates that principle. The thorniest part of Network Neutrality politically is the battle between the lobby for carriers who want to throttle and cap the Internet to increase profits - and some economists, who push the idea that an open Internet with open access is critical to being competitive in a new, emerging world that is ever becoming more dependent on online trade. Net Neutrality means no discrimination of any kind.
From Save the Internet Online:
The free and open Internet brings with it the revolutionary possibility that any Internet site could have the reach of a TV or radio station. The loss of Net Neutrality would end this unparalleled opportunity for freedom of expression.
As I recently wrote here:
As TV and Internet become a hybrid it's only going to get more complicated in separating them.
Trying to strip that freedom back from consumers because the Internet is coming to the Big Screen and the Second Screen will be a huge controversy. Consumers don't want a Chinese Wall around their Internet, and it's much harder to add regulation (Internet) than it is to strip it back from broadcast television. Though they may try to meet in the middle, I suspect it's a battle that will end up in industry self regulation rather than government. HbbTV is not going to save them. There are just too many other players coming from all angles.
To further complicate the issue, Brussels is highly prescriptive and moves at the pace of a snail while technology innovation is moving at the speed of light - Moore's Law might also be used to describe how quickly technology is advancing. The TV industry has fundamentally not changed in half a century, making it relatively easy to regulate. However...
Shotsberger (2000) reported that though it radio took 38 years to reach 50 million listeners. TV took 13 years to reach 50 million viewers.
The internet took four years, iPod took three years… Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months and iPhone applications hit one billion in nine months. How long before 100 million tablets and smart phones appear in front of 100 million smart TVs? Not as long as you think…. 2015?
Rapid change and slow legislation are only part of the problem.
Let me create another scenario - from a technological point of view - to show how the proposed regulation will be next to impossible without regulating the Internet itself.
DLNA standards - a subset of UPnP- which is on 18,000 different device models and close to half a billion devices already, contains technology which allows consumer to take audiovisual content from my tablet, PC, laptop or smartphone and push it to the any big screen TV that has a wifi connection or is networked in the house.
This is already being widely done within the Samsung Allshare ecosystem and Apple Airplay world. But also starting to creep into thousands of devices (Android, Microsoft and Apple) via a slew of new technologies such as Zapstreak, Flingo, Wonky, and DIAL (a consortium consisting of BBC, Sony, Samsung, LG, Netflix, Youtube, and Hulu).
Can Brussels pass legislation which not only limits what audiovisual content consumers are allowed to push from the web to their TVs such as Youtube and other web-based video portals as well as Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites where video is becoming more used? From other devices such as their PCs, Smartphones, Tablets and Laptops? But also control the UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) to ensure that public broadcasters and other government approved sources are on the front page?
Not likely. And not without an enormous battle, not only with consumers who value the freedom of the Internet, but also with private industry, who will fight tooth and nail to control their products.
It's not quite as easy as just passing legislation onto the consumer electronics industry which forces them to relent to EU Directives concerning Smart TVs and other hybrid devices - it's much more complex than that.
We are talking about the Internet of Things and Machine to Machine (M2M) future where many more devices will not only be connected to the Internet but will also be able to communicate with each other.
We are talking about proposed legislation which will, in order to be effective, need to control the Internet.
We are talking about proposed legislation which will, in order to be effective, need to violate the core principles of Network Neutrality.
It's a slippery slope. But the discussion is essential, needs to happen and the implications are vast - from curtailing internet freedom, to ensuring European diversity... from potentially curtailing economic growth to ensuring no monopolies are created. And more. Much more.
Let me give you another hypothetical scenario. Startups like zeebox.com, offer a second screen electronic programme guide and social TV experience (on Tablets, PCs and Smart Phones) which is largely independent of broadcasters, but consumers are using it to discover, disseminate and discuss what they watch on the big screen in the UK, US and Australia.
Under this new legislation, would Brussels have the right to dictate to zeebox the order which the broadcasters appears to ensure that BBC is the top in the UK? Or what if zeebox.com moves into Germany? Or any other European countries for that matter.
What happens in the case that other similar startups get traction in the market because broadcasters are either too slow (Youview in the UK) or not allowed to even compete (my sources tell me German regulators won't let German broadcasters unite to form a common second screen platform at all)? Will the EU make a play to control not only which information is presented in terms of what is available to watch, but also even control what content is being pushed from the Internet to TV?
As for a unified platform and trying to regulate fragmentation, the industry will sort itself out soon enough - and likely will be HTML5. Web standards rather than proprietary middleware largely underpins most of the currently connected TV platforms already.
What do you think?