IRIS Plus 2013-3: Converged Media: Same Content, Different Laws?

Author: Alexander Scheuer, Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbr├╝cken/Brussels

Published: 01/06/2013

Convergence is no longer a future vision but can be experienced in the here and now. At least, this is true for those among us who possess a smart TV and manage to use its full technical potential. At the same time, media professionals never tire of pointing to the fact (and to supporting surveys) that for users traditional television still ranks high or even highest among the different media. Television screens are therefore one likely place for linear and non-linear audiovisual media services to meet. Thanks to the advanced technology employed they can in parallel function as an interface for other communication and information services. This turns television screens into a prime testing ground for consumers who wish to explore combined offers of formerly clearly distinct media and information services. Television screens are therefore also the place where consumers will learn whether or not the current legal framework takes care of their expectations regarding the protection of their interests.

When revising the then key EU legal instrument for television, the Television without Frontiers Directive, EU member states sought to level the playing field for comparable services. In other words, by consequently adopting the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) they aimed to avoid the rocky roads that offering broadcasting and on-demand audiovisual media services on one platform but under entirely different legal regimes might have implied. This has naturally led to today's discussion of whether or not this goal has been achieved. And irrespective of how one positions oneself on this question, the increasing options for offering audiovisual media services simultaneously with other communication and information services beg the further question as to whether (other) uneven roads still stretch before us.

This article informs about where and to what extent linear and non-linear audiovisual media services are indeed subject to different rules. It also explores the potential gap that might exist between their legal regimes and that applicable to services which remain outside the scope of the AVMSD. To this end, the Lead Article examines the Directive's provisions on commercial communication and on the protection of minors and extrapolates in what way the AVMSD treats linear and non-linear audiovisual media services differently. Furthermore, it explains the extent to which these differences are leveled out by other European rules that back up the Directive and that apply to the broad range of all media and information services. The main focus of the Lead Article is the regulation of commercial communication given that many aspects of youth protection were already dealt with by IRIS plus 2012-6 "Protection of Minors and Audiovisual Content On-demand".