Will legislation kill off mobile TV before it gains an audience?

The online industry is bracing itself for European legislation that threatens to squeeze the life out of the emerging mobile television industry. New media experts are concerned about proposals to extend the Television Without Frontiers Directive to cover content distributed via the Web or to handheld devices, including mobile phones.

The European Commission’s amendments to the directive (MW December 15, 2005) were a mixed bag for digital marketers. While many welcome some of the suggested changes – notably that most regulation should be by country of origin – others remain sceptical.

The EC believes it can separate TV distribution into ‘linear’ and ‘non-linear’ categories. Linear covers scheduled broadcasting via traditional TV, the internet, or mobile phones, and ‘pushes’ content to viewers. Non-linear formats, such as on-demand films, involve the viewer ‘pulling’ content from a host.

The EC says a more relaxed version of existing TV regulations should apply to linear programming, while non-linear content would be subject only to “a basic, EU-wide, minimum standard of protection for audiovisual, on-demand services”. This would
prohibit surreptitious advertising, incitement to racial hatred, and include protection
for minors.

Viviane Reding, EC information society and media commissioner, says: “Europe’s audiovisual content industry [can] flourish under one of the most modern and flexible set of rules in the world. They should open up multi-media opportunities, and boost competition and consumer choice, while promoting public interest objectives.”

But Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) chief executive Anthony Walker, who represents the interests of the broadband industry to the UK and European governments, is “very concerned” the EC is restricting an industry that is only just refining its offering and distribution models.

BSG believes the kind of services that will develop over the next five years will marry linear and non-linear TV elements, so separate regulations would be unworkable. Walker says companies like BSkyB already combine programming distributed by cable or satellite, on-demand content, red-button interactivity and local storage capacity in consumers’ homes. “It would be very difficult to work out what rules apply,” he warns.

One thorny problem with mobile TV is the country of origin concept. Marketers might be able to cherry-pick the European Union state they use to distribute information, taking advantage of the most relaxed regulatory framework. Mobile marketing consultant Craig Barrack says: “The EU proposals sound great from a corporate point of view, but what about from a consumer perspective?”

Osborne Clark media law expert Nick Johnson says the proposals could become UK law in 18 months. He adds: “It looks like another case of the EC legislating without a clear need for public policy.”

Other experts are concerned by intellectual property regulations affecting the amount and quality of content available on PCs and mobiles. Graham Lovelace, co-author of the IPTV [Internet Protocol TV] Broadband Meets Broadcast report, states: “IPTV platforms will only succeed if companies can differentiate from the three other delivery platforms – terrestrial, cable and satellite. They need rights.”

If those rights are secured, current TV broadcast models – and the EC’s proposals – will become irrelevant. Lovelace adds: “IPTV challenges the concept of the TV channel. Consumers will expect to see the programmes they want, when they want. The iPod generation is the proof of that.”

Martin Croft

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here