UK Connected TV Regulator ATVOD Slams Hardcore Porn VOD

written by: Richard Kastelein

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More than 20 UK porn video services have been investigated in recent months by The Authority for Television On Demand – co-regulator of editorial content in UK video on demand services. ATVOD’s detailing of its record quickly followed Ofcom’s recent decision to confirm the existing regulatory framework for VOD services until 2020 and to give ATVOD some additional powers in regulating Connected TV in the UK. Initially there had been some concern as to ATVOD’s role with some sectors of the industry arguing that it’s charging structure was unfair.

The authority’s annual report details steps taken by ATVOD in the year to 31 March 2012 to protect children from hardcore porn on regulated video on demand (“VOD”) services, including action against on-line service ‘Bootybox.tv’. The porn video site closed after ATVOD issued an enforcement notification requiring the operators to either remove the hardcore porn content from the service or put it all behind effective access controls which would ensure that only adults could see it.

Since the period covered by the annual report, ATVOD has launched pro-active investigations into 23 more notified ‘adult’ services and found 13 to be in breach of the statutory rules because they featured hardcore porn material which could be accessed by under 18’s.

Two of those found to be in breach have now closed and seven have made themselves compliant by placing all hardcore material behind an effective access control mechanism. Four services which have failed to make changes to ensure that under-18s cannot normally see hardcore material have been referred to Ofcom so the back-stop regulator can consider whether to impose a financial penalty or restrict or suspend the service.

ATVOD Chief Executive Pete Johnson said:

“We have made good progress in ensuring that UK operators of regulated VOD services comply with rules designed to protect children from harmful content, but we are not complacent and will continue to monitor relevant services and act as required.

“Our recent enforcement activity has sent a clear message that UK providers of hardcore pornography on demand must take effective steps to ensure that such material is not accessible to under-18s. Asking visitors to a website to click an ‘I am 18’ button or enter a date of birth or use a debit card is not sufficient – if they are going to offer explicit sex material they must know that their customers are 18, just as they would in the ‘offline’ world.”

In its report the authority also welcomed Ofcom’s decision to confirm the TV on demand regulator’s designation until 2020, and to give ATVOD more operating freedom, including removal of the need to seek prior approval from Ofcom before publishing guidance.

Commenting on the decision, ATVOD Chair Ruth Evans said:

“ATVOD has developed and matured as a regulator over its first two years and we warmly welcome Ofcom’s decision to reflect this not just by confirming that the Designation will run until at least 2020 but also by giving ATVOD greater autonomy and independence.”

The 2012 Annual Report also highlights:

  1. A rise in the number of regulated VOD services: from 154 at the end of 2010-11 to 184 at the end of 2011-12
  2. A tenfold rise in the number of complaints to ATVOD about VOD services: to more than 50 per month in 2011-12 - ATVOD’s analysis that regulatory protections may not be wholly in tune with the needs of viewers, especially their desire to protect children from inappropriate content, as TV, VOD and the internet increasingly come together on the main family TV screen in more and more households, providing a single and simple point of access to services subject to different regulatory regimes and to services which are unregulated.
  3. The consolidation of ATVOD, and its Industry Forum, in its second year of operation, and the introduction of a more robust and equitable fee structure with concessionary rates for non-commercial and small scale service providers

Commenting on Ofcom’s decision to confirm ATVOD's designation, Kerry Kent, Chair of the VOD Industry Forum said:

“In the time since the Industry Forum came into being a lot of progress has been made towards the development of the co-regulatory relationship. We will continue to work in partnership with ATVOD to deliver regulation that works for consumers and industry.”

ATVOD’s 2012 Annual Report is published here.

 

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