Ofcom to regulate VOD content

Monday, September 14 2009, 12:58 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

Ofcom has announced that it will start regulating video on demand content for the first time ever by the end of the year.

Under a revised version of the European Union's Audio Visual Media Service directive, the UK government must now regulate all TV-like VOD content to create a level playing field in the emerging sector and also protect the interests of viewers.

Therefore, Ofcom today confirmed that it will start regulating VOD content, audiovisual media services and all associated advertising from December 19. This move would mean that output on BBC iPlayer, 4OD, SkyPlayer and others would have to adhere to a range of minimum content standards.

The VOD regulations are likely to affect "television-like" programming which is intended to be made available to the public at a time of their own choosing. This means that user generated videos carried on websites such as YouTube or journalistic video content distributed via online newspaper sites and other sources would not be regulated.

The government has given the media watchdog full responsibility to oversee a co-regulatory framework, with the Association for Television On Demand (ATVOD) directly regulating VOD services and the Advertising Standards Authority dealing with all associated advertising.

Under the framework, ATVOD would ensure that VOD content does not contain material which incites hatred based on sex, race, religion or nationality. It would also act on any content which could "seriously impair the physical, mental, or moral development of minors", and ensure that all on-demand programming complies with sponsorship requirements.

In turn, the ASA would regulate all associated VOD advertising to ensure that there are no surreptitious or subliminal techniques being used, and that existing rules governing tobacco or other types of advertising are adhered to.

Despite VOD content not to be judged by Ofcom's Broadcasting Code, the regulator would retain back-stop powers to intervene in cases of transgression when the co-regulatory framework "does not work effectively".

The proposals also indicate that BBC content on iPlayer and other sources would be regulated by a combination of the BBC Trust and Ofcom rather than the co-regulatory framework.

Ofcom has now launched a consultation on the plans to seek stakeholder views on which VOD content should come "in scope" with the new regulations.

Stakeholders now have until October 26 to provide feedback on Ofcom's proposals before they come into force later in the year.