Europe tinkers with e-commerce and online video

The European Commission has unveiled a raft of initiatives apparently designed to give it more control over online commercial activity in across the continent.

The headline move was an update to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), a mere six years after the last one. “Nowadays viewers do not only watch video content via their TV channels but also increasingly via video-on-demand services (such as Netflix and MUBI) and video-sharing platforms (such as YouTube and Dailymotion),” observed the EC press release.

Pausing only to stress the need to protect children from things, the EC announced: “The revised AVMSD also strengthens the promotion of European cultural diversity, ensures the independence of audiovisual regulators and gives more flexibility to broadcasters over advertising.”

“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 Digital Single Market VP Andrus Ansip, before unveiling the following new rules:

  • Video-sharing platforms put in place measures to protect minors from harmful content (which may impair the physical, mental or moral development); access to which would have to be restricted
  • Video-sharing platforms put in place measures to protect all citizens from incitement to hatred
  • Video-on-demand services need to ensure at least 20% share of European content in their catalogues and should give a good visibility (prominence) to European content in their offers.

Apart from the video stuff the EC has initiated a review of what it calls online platforms (i.e. e-commerce and search sites), which will be guided by the following principles:

  • A level-playing field for comparable digital services (including a review of EU telecoms legislation)
  • Responsible behaviour of online platforms to protect core values
  • Transparency and fairness for maintaining user trust and safeguarding innovation
  • Open and non-discriminatory markets in a data-driven economy

In the light of the EC’s recent investigation into Google, this latest set of initiatives looks a lot like a digital land-grab from the EC; establishing a framework for it to exert control over e-commerce and digital media more easily in future. Many are applauding the moves as creating more of a level playing field for Europe versus the US in e-commerce, but quotas and ill-defined protections are unlikely to improve things for anyone.

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