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Ofcom puts UK VoD regulator up for review

2 years on, the scrutiniser will be scrutinised

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Video on Demand regulator ATVOD has completed its two-year run, and Ofcom wants to know if people think the regulatory split is working, and if it's going to work in future.

Ofcom hived off regulation for internet video to The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) in 2010, separating VoD services from broadcast services, despite the problems in divining which is which, and the difficulty in regulating anything supplied over the internet. ATVOD was given a run of two years to see how it performed, and now Ofcom is polling for interested parties to report back on how they think it's working out.

Registered providers of VoD services, including catch-up services such as 4oD and the BBC's iPlayer, are required to register with ATVOD and pay around £10,000 annually to cover the administration costs (ATVOD isn't supposed to make money). But they are only required to do so if they're providing an on-demand service, and if they have editorial control as well as a UK office.

Officially that excludes sites consisting primarily of user-generated cat videos, such as YouTube, though one could argue that YouTube meets all of the above criteria despite the editorial control being reactive (removing content complained about) rather than proactive (reviewing content prior to making it available).

ATVOD's remit also excludes the latest generation of IPTV services supplied to the Freeview platform. This includes channels such Racing TV – which provides subscription content on Freeview channel 116 (regulated by Ofcom) and via its website – but as it publishes scheduled programmes, the website falls outside of ATVOD's remit and thus is not regulated at all.

Viva TV Music is not so lucky. The service is run by MTV, which appealed to Ofcom after ATVOD said it should be registered. MTV argued that music videos don't constitute TV content, and therefore Viva shouldn't be required to cough up the fee and open itself to regulation, but Ofcom sided with ATVOD's appointed representative and ruled that music videos are television.

The difference, in all these cases, is the ability for the viewer to select the programme they wish to watch. China TV (also on Freeview) offers three different streams, and might only supply those streams when they are demanded, but the content of those streams is predetermined and scheduled so falls under Ofcom's watchful eye rather than that of the ATVOD.

Whether that is, and will remain, a sensible way to divide things up is what Ofcom wants to establish. One could argue that as TV becomes more demand-driven, Ofcom's regulation of content will diminish. This might even be desirable, given Ofcom keeps pretty busy managing radio spectrum, leashing telecommunications operators and (now) regulating the post office.

The regulator (PDF, open letter explaining the move) is polling interested parties for feedback, and plans to put together some proposals by the summer, probably extending ATVOD's role indefinitely unless someone comes up with a better plan. ®

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