DCMS pre-empts Digital Britain after consultation ends

Lord Carter demonstrates a clear understanding of the obstacles to his vision for Digital Britain, from the lack of risk capital to rebuild our obsolescent local communications infrastructure to the collapse of advertising revenues to support content creation. The announcement of the DCMS implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive shows an equally clear lack of understanding. or does it?


Last week the DCMS issued a Ministerial statement on how the Government intends to implement the AVMS Directive. Read this alongside the press release and consultation summary report . You will see how well the decisions represent the collective interest of those who responded to the consultation: including current and would-be regulators, working together to protect dying business models from the future, even though this might condemn the more creative of their children to a life of exile or unemployment.


I have written and blogged on both the Directive and the DCMS consultation before:  including to draw attention to the effect of the proposed ban on product placement. 


DCMS had the power, under the Directive, to limit the ban.


They chose not to.


But, that decision reflects the inputs to their consultation.    


The “meat”  in the Ministerial Statement is that DCMS  will “maintain the status quo” and ban product placement in programmes made by or for UK television producers, because of lack of “conclusive evidence” (whatever that is) as to its economic benefit.


The statement says that the Government is “prepared to look at new evidence as it emerges” but wishes to “consider first other measures to assist broadcasters”. No such review is planned until 2011/12. 


Meanwhile product placement will “continue” to be permitted in programmes made by and for UK video on demand services, “subject to the limitation and safeguards imposed by the Directive and the co-regulator”.


“Prop placement will continue to be permitted …”  – probably because any ban would entail taking on the “spanish practices” of the programme production teams of non-advertising funded broadcasters.


“Product placement will also continue to be permitted in films and in television programme acquired from outside the UK …” : thus reinforcing the dominance of US content on UK screens, including the new generation of placement supported sitcoms and soap operas.


The DCMS announcement came less than a week after Lord Carter said that his Digital Britain exercise would include looking at the implications of the collapse of intra-UK advertising revenues (as opposed to pay per click fees to non-UK ISPs) for the future of UK produced content.


I doubt that it was coincidence that, almost simultaneously, ITV announced plans to scale back its UK production budgets and Internet operations because of the collapse in traditional advertising revenues.


The moral of this story is that those who fail to respond to “consultation” opportunities have themselves to blame for the consequences for their children as well as for themselves.  


The Digital Britain exercise may open the possibility of a review well before 2012, even before any change of Government in 2010. But this is a European Directive so remember to raise this with your regional candidates for the European election. Most of you ignore them but you suffer the consequences. These will increase if attempts to reform the pan-EU groupings work and lead to an acerlating shift of power from Commission to Parliament from June onwards. And even after they are elected MEPs really do like hearing from constituents who think ahead – especially if they visit them in Brussels or Strasbourg and cobine the visit with a meeting with Commission officials. It makes such a change from the usual.lobbying.


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