Friday, July 21, 2006

TV Without Frontiers

The EU's 'TV Without Frontiers' directive is being revisited again.

This is, IMHO, a very important piece of regulation. It's one that largely elicits bafflement in the UK, as - like so many EU regulations - it is completely unreported here.

Yet, it would be reasonable to hold up TVWF as being the reason that TV in Europe is not the same as TV in the US (and it's proponents could claim that the fact that original TV drama is made in the EU at all is thanks to TVWF)

I say that it's important. Perhaps, I should be asking if it is still important? I'm wondering if it is still needed, and if it is appropriate to regulate to 'strengthen Europe's content industry'.

You will see that the new revision is concentrating partly on the creation of harmonised rules on product placement and upon the other restrictions that EU states tend to put on TV advertising. The underlying assumption is, probably, that they are not placed upon broadcasters in the US.

There's an FAQ here and a summary here:

Certainly, in the mid-1990s, when multi-channel TV was an unknown quantity, there were legitimate worries that new broadcasters (a euphemism, usually, for BSkyB) were claiming that regulation would be impossible in a multi-channel broadcasting environment - and that, consequently, it should no longer be attempted. Sky particularly had in mind the rules that say that 51% of broadcast content should originate within the EU*.

Words like 'dumping' were wheeled out all the time. And, of course, this debate provided the perfect cockpit in which to rehearse the opposition between Froggy cultural fragility and their apparent nemesis, our crass Anglo-Saxon values. Not only did it encompass cultural interventionism (something that the French have never pretended to undervalue) - it also touched on the deregulatory agenda.

It was certainly hard to make the case for regulation in British circles at the time. Yet, though this debate was often portrayed in this way (with the UK, as ever, held up as a Yankee Trojan horse), there was a minor problem with this:
The UK is, in fact, not only the most heavily regulated broadcasting market in the world, but it also shows signs of benefiting enormously from this state of affairs.
In terms of home-grown content on TV, we produce more for our own marketplace than anywhere else in the world apart from the US. At the same time, we don't have the clumsy regulations that used to apply to French radio and that still apply to French Cinema (I say clumsy, but their cinema regulations seem to have the desired effect). In short, we have out-froggied the Frogs without even having to make ourselves look like them.

As long as viewers in the UK can have a wide choice of new original content (particularly drama) from a diverse range of sources, I for one will be happy. But I'm not sure how far either the 'public service broadcasting' intervention that we have in the UK or the other EU models can be applied in the future.

I'd be interested in anyone's views on this though.

*This is a crude rendition of the rules, but I think you get the picture.

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