UK VOD Gets Vague New Rules From Ofcom, ATVOD

“TV-like” video-on-demand services get regulated by Ofcom and the self-regulatory Association for Television On-Demand (ATVOD) starting Saturday.

This is the UK implementation of the European Commission’s 2007 Audio-Visual Media Services (AVMS) directive, which extended regulation to “television-like” online services.

The new regs mean VOD shows “must not contain any incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality”; “must provide appropriate protection for minors against harmful material” and “sponsored programmes and services must comply with applicable sponsorship requirements”.

But AVMS left “TV-like” wide open (certainly ITV (LSE: ITV) Player, for example, but what about YouTube and Bebo shows?) And Ofcom, too, is vague on which services must fall in line…

It commissioned Essential Research to ask viewers what they think “TV-like” means. In an 80-page report, they suggest it means professionally-produced shows with which they are familiar. But, buried in a separate 88-page report, Ofcom says it won’t know which providers the new scope will cover until new government regulations are brought in March 2010.

Even at the point, the new framework looks half-cocked….

— Ofcom is leaving it to the services themselves to notify it on whether they should be regulated.
— The services will have to pay a fee for the privilege.
— Services that do so must keep VOD material for 42 days after it was last made available.

For sake of argument, let’s just assume the new regs refer to services like iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five, who are already governed by basically the same such guidelines in linear TV.