EC Wades In On Connected TV, Cross-Border Content Regulation In New Green Paper

The European Commission believes that, alongside the rise of smartphones, tablets and other TV replacements, by 2016 connected TVs could be used in the majority of European homes — up from around 40.4 million today. Today it released a Green Paper to lay the groundwork for how it might cope with that.

To be clear, this is not a re-writing of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, the basic set of rules first introduced in 2010 covering areas single-market convergence, although it could lead to that. Initially, the purpose of the Green Paper will be to get a better handle on an area that is rapidly changing with the boom in mobile broadband, the rise of tablets and video apps, those connected TVs and more. It’s part of Kroes’ wider Digital Agenda strategy, which has covered areas like addressing the digital divide, the role of regulation in childrens content, cybersecurity, tech brain drain and more.

As part of the Green Paper, the EC seeks feedback on things like how TV is watched, the limitations of digital content distributed on a per-country basis, exclusivity deals for films and other media, and whether self-regulation (used widely today) is doing enough — issues that could potentially impact, among others, device makers like Samsung, LG and (perhaps!) Apple; streaming companies like Amazon and Netflix; and publishers/creators.

Neelie Kroes, the outspoken Commission VP who oversees this area, focuses her attention on connected TVs specifically today: “Connected TV is the next big thing in the creative and digital worlds,” she is expected to note in a statement today.

But Kroes also acknowledges that even if it’s not a huge LG set in a TV room that will be the lever for how things transform, the evolution is certainly an issue regardless. “Convergence between sectors means people can enjoy a wider choice of great content – but it also creates disruptions and challenges. We need a converged and EU-wide debate to help deal with these changes.” Indeed, figures from Cisco’s most recent Visual Networking Index, a huge study it puts out annually, mobile video consumption worldwide exceeded 50% for the first time last year and shows no sign of slowing down, with Europe accounting for over 20% of all global mobile traffic.

Part of the issue in Europe is that, at the moment, there are some cross purposes at work.

For example, when it comes to content, deals are often cut on a per-country basis, which makes it hard to then charge and consume content across borders — let alone license content. On another level, there are national regulators trying to tackle issues of cross-media ownership that may not harmonize with those of other countries. There is also the thorny issue of standards. Is it really the role of the EC to get involved in areas like whether we should be sold HbbTV or MHP hardware? The endorsements that regulators once made years ago for mobile TV seemed back then, and especially now, pretty hollow considering that nothing took off, and in fact what people love to use today are apps that stream on iOS, Android and other platforms.

Still, given that we are slowly marching to a new era of content consumption it’s useful to start laying some ideas on to the table, and if it means that I might be able to watch the latest series of Borgen, with subtitles, right when it gets released in Denmark, all the better.

(Link to the Green Paper will get posted here)