Bitter spat at ATVOD UK meeting
By Chris Forrester

The (UK) Association for TV on Demand held a stakeholders meeting with Ofcom on December 13th in order to discuss fees for 2011 licences. The meeting, highly charged from the beginning, saw some strong opinions expressed over the proposed fees from Ofcom, with some channel owners expressing grave concern that ATVOD itself, and Ofcom, were not keeping to previous promises.

Three key themes emerged:

First, that the legislation was fundamentally flawed. One operator suggested taking Ofcom to a judicial review for a fresh examination of the licence fee structure.

The second objection was that Ofcom is not correctly interpreting the legislation, and the “light touch” called for is not being adopted, and that ATVOD itself had permitted far higher fees to be agreed without consultation with smaller channel operators.

The third point was that some sort of tiered fee structure was needed, and not an all-embracing flat rate which risked pushing smaller broadcasters out of business.

One delegate to the meeting has subsequently suggested that ‘small’ could mean broadcasters with – say – less than 20 staff, and that such fees should be commensurate.

A number of delegates flagged up that when the consultations were initially carried out, most thought that they would fall completely outside of the regulations. It had been understood that only the UK’s major broadcasting players such as Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 would be affected. Delegates were annoyed to find they are being chased for fees, and where they had little or no dialogue in the structure of the licensing process. Questions were also raised as to why only the bigger players sat on ATVOD’s board.

One delegate from Chellozone said the proposed licence fee for his multi-national VOD service would end up costing more than the net profit from the system, and besides, was a higher fee than that proposed be levied on UK-only operators.

Ofcom/ATVOD is suggesting fees – per service – for 2011 of between £3,850 and £4,850. Delegates stated that a flat-rate fee of just €200 is levied by the Netherlands.