EU legal framework

IRIS Special 2005 - Tomorrow's Delivery of Audiovisual Services - Legal Questions Raised by Digital Broadcasting and Mobile Reception

Author: Susanne Nikoltchev (Ed.), European Audiovisual Observatory

Published: 01/12/2005

What is the difference between a television and a mobile phone? Until a few years ago this question would have been a good opening line for a joke, no more. Now, however, it has to be taken more seriously, which is why it has been chosen as the subject of this edition of IRIS Special.

Admittedly, for most of us, television sets are still what we use to watch television and mobile handsets a phoning device that requires no fixed network connection. The boundaries between the two, however, are becoming increasingly blurred.

When fitted out with various technical "extras", televisions can be used not only to watch DVDs and display teletext, but also for unlimited enjoyment with video games, interactive participation in broadcast programmes, and surfing on the Internet. Using webcam technology plugged into our TV screen, we can see who we are talking to via a computer link. Surely it is only a short step to televisions that double up as telephones.

The rapid development of the different services available to mobile phone owners is even more impressive. Here, it is a case not so much of what they can but what they cannot do, as the mushrooming of new functions drives the race for better, "all-singing, all-dancing" devices. It is already possible to receive television transmissions on a mobile phone, and with playback networks interactivity also becomes a valid option.

And as services that used to be separate continue to converge, so the legal issues connected with television and telephony increasingly overlap. It is no wonder then that providers and users are so keen to know the difference between a TV service and a mobile-based service, to the extent that the content involved is largely the same.

For example, what about the "must carry" obligation in Article 31 of the EC Universal Service Directive which applies (only?) to broadcast services. How are such "broadcast services" defined? Does the definition also apply to TV content received via a mobile handset? And if so, should such a service be subject to a licence fee?

Comparisons drawn between conventional and new media content services are also interesting in relation to other areas such as frequency use and interoperability. Each side has a lot to learn from the other, in terms of both the technical and legal aspects at stake. The overriding question here is what needs to be regulated, and how to go about it?

It is impossible to get to the bottom of these issues without examining their roots, which are indissociable from the subject of digitalisation. That explains why, after taking stock of developments on the television market generally, this IRIS Special begins with a description of how digital terrestrial television has developed and the different services that have become possible as a result of digitalisation. It then goes on to look at those aspects of particular importance for digital television such as "must carry" obligations, interoperability, and competition. Finally, it addresses the issues raised by "mobile" TV.

This issue of IRIS Special also contains a wealth of information about the basic technical and legal considerations associated with electronic media content services. This should be of interest to anyone who comes into contact with such services, whether in the professional or private sphere.