Will Ofcom drop the ATVOD ball on age checking and content regulation tomorrow?

Tomorrow Ofcom takes control of “on demand” content back from ATVOD and s said to plan to align it more closely with linear TV.

Last year the Prime Minister made an election pledge that on-line age-checking would be made compulsory to help protect children from accidentally accessing pornography. He repeated the pledge after the election. ATVOD, the content industry co-regulator led the way on consultation as to how this might be achieved but in October it was announced that its functions would be taken back into Ofcom.  

The summary of the Draft Ofcom plan for 2016-17, to which I asked readers to respond earlier this month, refers to its duties to protect consumers from harm but contains no reference to any plans to continue the functions performed by ATVOD. The only reference is to “Considering the watershed and other tools to protect children from inappropriate content”. Meanwhile the Advertising Standards Authority will remain the co-regulator for advertising content.  

The automatic application of controls in services like the SKY Shield imply that major players are moving beyond the current Ofcom Guidance in response to audience pressure. Hopefully, therefore, the omission is a mistake and not a capitulation to those opposed to the routine use of the low cost, anonymised, on-line age-checking processes that have been developed in response to the pioneering work of ATVOD. The need for these goes much wider than aligning to the watershed concepts of the “dying” world of linear broadcasting. It also goes much wider than child protection. But it also strikes at the heart of business models aimed at luring children into a world of on-line exploitation that is not just sexual.