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Ofcom shoves video-on-demand regulation onto ATVOD's plate

Watchdog tosses bone to offspring, stops overseeing every ruling

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Ofcom has decided ATVOD can keep monitoring video-on-demand services, and with less oversight from the parent regulator, following five months of consultation.

ATVOD is a commercial operation which has been looking after video services for the last two years, following up complaints and ensuring suitable levels of decency, but its most-troublesome cases have been disputes about what constitutes Video on Demand so that is where Ofcom is loosening the reigns.

Any video service with a schedule, even if supplied over the internet, falls to Ofcom, but regulation of services which allow the viewer to pick what they watch have been outsourced to ATVOD since 2010, and Ofcom reckons ATVOD's made a pretty good run of it.

Services falling between the regulators have included MTV's web channel, which claimed that music videos weren't TV programmes as such so it shouldn't have to pay the ATVOD membership fee, as well as various newspapers who embedded video into their web pages and claimed exemption.

In both those instances the aggrieved parties appealed to Ofcom, which sided with ATVOD in the first, but the papers in the second, costing everyone time and effort that respondents to the consultation wanted to avoid in future. In typical style, BT reckoned in its stakeholder statement (PDF) that ATVOD and Ofcom should present a united front, perhaps negotiated over an agreeable dinner, to avoid legal problems in future:

"ATVOD is not going to get it right every time but where rulings are made in new areas and on high profile cases where appeals are likely, it seems sensible for both Ofcom and ATVOD to share their views, even if it is informally, before action is taken by ATVOD."

As part of these changes (PDF, not as interesting as it sounds) Ofcom won't require ATVOD to refer all decisions about what constitutes VoD to it, allowing the VoD regulator to make minor changes to its rules and procedures without having get Ofcom to sign off every one.

ATVOD has done a reasonably good job, though the VoD market it regulates is quite niche at the moment its growing fast. The launch of Sky Now (who signed up to ATVOD hours before it launched) and the success of the BBC's iPlayer (who've been with ATVOD since the beginning) show that VoD is the future, which means that ATVOD will, eventually, become our television regulator. ®

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