FML Blog

Getting inside the Commission's Digital Single Market Strategy

An interview with Roberto Viola, Director-General of DG CONNECT, European Commission

Monday, January 11, 2016      Future Media Lab.       0

On 26 January 2016, the Future Media Lab. will be hosting our 6th annual conference. This year, the conference will examine how technological innovations have changed Europe's media sector and how this in turn has altered the relationships between media companies and their audiences. We have also invited a number of policymakers to the event to discuss a policy framework allowing to serve Europe’s citizens with independent, diverse and high-quality journalistic content and how to create a regulatory environment appropriate for sustainable business models for media companies in Europe.


One of the speakers who will be participating in a panel discussion on the morning of the event is Roberto Viola, Director-General of DG CONNECT in the European Commission. In the run-up to the event, we've conducted an interview with Mr. Viola in order to get his ideas on the Digital Single Market Strategy, the rush to get audience data, and the future of copyright.


Future Media Lab.: One of the biggest aims of the Digital Single Market Strategy is to ensure a positive business environment where digital European companies – including the media - can develop and fairly compete on the global scene. Fair competition, net neutrality, balanced data protection rules…all of these key areas are preconditions for establishing a level playing field in the digital environment. Yet, those issues have already been dealt with over the past years at EU level. What else can the DSM Strategy bring in order to achieve this ambitious goal?


Roberto Viola: The harmonization of the approach to net neutrality and data protection as well as the effective and timely enforcement of EU competition rules are indeed important steps towards achieving our Digital Single Market. However, a lot still needs to be done.


As a first step, the European Commission will address the problem of geoblocking by a legislative proposal in 2016. We will also provide, in 2016, an assessment of the adequacy of the current legislative framework with regard to online platforms. Contract and consumer protection laws also need to be clarified or adjusted to fit the new procedures in the online world. The Commission is also looking into the adequacy of rules regarding parcel delivery and VAT taxation.


Moreover, an important part of the DSM strategy deals precisely with the media, in particular with audiovisual services. The EU has long acknowledged the importance of these services for the internal market. This is why there is a particular regulatory framework (the Audiovisual Media Services Directive – AVMSD) for this type of media. The internal market approach of the AVMSD was crucial in fostering the development and cross-border availability of audiovisual media services in the EU. As of end 2013, 5141 TV channels were established in the EU. Around 40% of them targeted foreign markets (either EU or extra EU). This share has increased from 28 % in 2009, when the AVMSD was implemented. Moreover, 31 % of the video on demand services available are established in another EU country.


This success story needs to be maintained. For this, it is necessary to make sure that the AVMSD is in line with new developments in the market and with viewing patterns brought about by media convergence. Relevant stakeholders were consulted in the Public consultation that closed on 30 September. Its findings, together with other evidence (studies etc) will inform the legislative proposal on the review of the Directive, announced for Q2 2016.


You point to the issue of a level playing field and one of the preliminary trends observed in the Public consultation is precisely this one. On the one hand, there is a call for reassessing the scope of application of the AVMSD. Some stakeholders would like to deal with concerns coming from new online services, on grounds of a (perceived) lack of a level playing field and/or the need to ensure the protection of consumers online. The findings of the on-going assessment of the role of platforms and intermediaries in the digital economy will have a bearing on this issue. On the other hand, we should also consider that at present the Directive applies in some domains lighter touch rules to on-demand services as compared to broadcasting services. In the Public consultation, some stakeholders called for either levelling up or down the rules on protection of minors, commercial communications and promotion of European works.


We will come with a legislative proposal on AVMSD before the summer break.


Future Media Lab.: A lot of companies are competing for audience data, which is a key asset in the digital age particularly for the purposes of audience engagement. From your perspective what needs to be done in order to unlock the potential of a data-driven creative sector in Europe?  


Roberto Viola: We need to take into account and balance two interests:


On the one hand, data is a commercial asset, and companies who are having relevant audience data may think of sharing aggregated data with interested third parties. This is particularly relevant for media companies, as they are one of the major data collectors. Media consumption (video, photos, text, etc.) already represents 70% of the Internet's traffic. Under the 'Free flow of data' initiative, the EC will look into some transversal issues in relation to the tradability of data as commercial assets, including questions regarding what exact rights can be exchanged, how to determine the rights-holder and how to tackle the liability risks. Moreover, the phenomenon of "data brokerage" places is only slowly emerging. We will examine what parameters facilitate or hinder the emergence of data brokerage places need to be examined.


On the other hand, access to your own data is a right. Under the 1995 Data Protection Directive, individuals have the right to access the data held about them. This right will be reinforced as part of the General Data Protection Regulation ("right to data portability"). It is necessary to take into account all scenarios. For example, the integration of individuals' audience data with other data about that same person might be interesting also for the individual itself, who would benefit from additional insights resulting from the combination of different data. In this context, we observe an emerging development of personal information management systems that aim at giving the individual greater control on access to and use made of her/his data. The Horizon 2020 programme (topic ICT 18) supports the development of privacy-preserving technologies that allow data subjects to remain in control of the use that is made of their personal data, while allowing appropriate and controlled re-use of personal data.


Moreover, we are encouraging all media sectors to be involved in important research and innovation actions in the field of Big data in the context of H2020.


Future Media Lab.: Media companies engage with their audiences primarily thanks to the high-quality content they produce. In the digital age, an increasing value share of this content is however transferred to new market players (e.g. news aggregators) therefore eroding the revenue basis of many creative industries. Is less copyright protection the right answer in this context?  


Roberto Viola: Both — content creation and content distribution via online services — are important for growth and jobs and for the success of the internet economy. As indicated in our copyright Communication of 9 December 2015, the precondition for a well-functioning market place for copyright is the possibility for right holders to license and be paid for the use of their content, including content distributed online.


There is a growing concern about whether the current EU copyright rules guarantee that the value generated by some of the new forms of online content distribution is fairly shared. If it is not, then the digital single market’s ambition to deliver opportunities for all and to recognise the value of content and of the investment that goes into it would be put into question.


The Commission is therefore reflecting and consulting on the different factors around the value created by new forms of online distribution of copyright-protected works and how it is shared among the various market players. The Commission will examine whether action is needed on the definition of the rights of ‘communication to the public’ and of ‘making available’. It will also consider whether any action specific to news aggregators is needed, including intervening on rights. The role of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms will also be assessed. Initiatives in this area will come by spring 2016 and will be consistent with the Commission's work on online platforms. The Commission will also consider whether solutions at EU level are required to increase legal certainty, transparency and balance in the system that governs the remuneration of authors and performers in the EU, taking national competences into account.


However, the copyright framework is not the only instrument that can have an impact on the current situation. The actual market conditions are also dictated by a technological gap between traditional media companies and OTT players (i.e. news aggregators).


The Media industry has been strongly disrupted by digitization and pervasive connectivity. This disruption has offered opportunities to reach wider and more engaged audiences but also opened the market to new players not always involved in the creation of content. The European Media industry, historically very strong in the production of high quality content, has now to invest in technology. This can bring solutions which:


  • Provide a better understanding of the users/customers through the information-rich feedback channel enabled by open platforms or software applications.
  • Offer personalized content into a multidevice scenario. Knowing what are the user habits and where the content is consumed opens the opportunity to feed the customers with more interesting and engaging content.
  • Provide the analysis the huge amount of data received from the users.
  • Enable immersive content consumption. Content digitization and new technological tools providing multisensorial experiences can offer to the user new ways to experience media content by being immersed in it.


We are offering research and innovation funding which can help the Media industry to embrace this technological revolution. Dedicated funding supporting the convergence of media content is available (call ICT19-2017, budget 39M Euro). Furthermore we are encouraging all Media sectors to be involved in important research and innovation actions in the field of Big data, 5G, IoT.


Future Media Lab.: What are you hoping to get out of the conference?  


Roberto Viola: I would like to hear from you. I know that this conference is always a great opportunity to find out how the media industry is innovating. I am curious to learn the newest trends in the field and will certainly consider the input for the ongoing DSM actions.

For more information or to register for this event, click here!
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