In its ambitious digital single market strategy the European Commission has included several proposals designed to help consumers take advantage of the products and services on offer. But while confident consumers are good for business, it is also true that confident businesses are good for consumers too.
Digital technology is empowering consumers the world over. It has revolutionised how we communicate, work, travel, shop, learn, express and entertain ourselves. Consumers and their needs and wants lie at the centre of the process of digital product and service development.
In such a highly competitive digital market tech companies cannot afford not to listen to their customers. Failure to deliver what they want leads rapidly to lost market share and shrinking sales.
It’s important to remember that the interests of digital users and the providers of digital products and services are closely aligned. Especially when it comes to developing European policies aimed at protecting consumers.
Policymakers must ensure that the legal environment they build allows consumers to grasp the opportunities that the technologies offer, while at the same time providing them with the safeguards they need against among other things the real risks of market failure.
In its ambitious digital single market strategy the European Commission has included several proposals designed to help consumers take advantage of the products and services on offer. DIGITALEUROPE is very involved in these policy debates.
Three policy areas deserve special attention: eCommerce, audiovisual media services, and copyright.
DIGITALEUROPE welcomes the ambition to unlock the potential of eCommerce. We believe that this will not only be of benefit to consumers and businesses but also to the European economy as a whole.
In this area, consumers are already benefiting from a strong set of consumer laws designed to build consumer trust online. We believe that it is very important – and fully within the spirit of the Commission’s better regulation initiative – to promote existing rules and push for their proper enforcement before considering new rules. This is particularly important to consider while the European Commission is in the middle of its REFIT Fitness Check of consumer rights legislation.
As well as building trust among consumers, EU consumer policy should also aim to boost business confidence to sell online and across national borders.
This is very much in consumers’ interests too because they stand to benefit from greater choice and more price competition. The two Directives covering digital contracts as well as the Geoblocking Regulation must seek to deliver legal certainty to businesses by encouraging traders and service providers to make their offers available to consumers from another EU country.
Will the geoblocking initiative actually help reduce fragmentation in the digital single market and spur cross-border sales? It’s not clear. Companies have to adapt to a variety of national market conditions such as national standards of living, consumer habits and preferences, language requirements, as well as the need for businesses to comply with diverging local technical and legal rules on consumer rights, VAT rates, copyright, or rules on the disposal of electronic waste.
These differences are what fragment the EU market, not how companies respond to them. If we really want to develop a digitally powered single market the EU needs to address the root causes of the fragmentation, not just the ways companies respond to them. In other words, there can only really be a Digital Single Market where a single market already exists.
The EU effort to reform rules for audiovisual media services (AVMS) risks denying consumers the benefits that technology offers them. New online services and the development of new consumer devices capable of delivering these services to viewers at home or on the move, in real time or at a more convenient time later herald an explosion of consumer choice.
And this consumer empowerment will lead to an increase in diversity in content. The AVMS Directive should look at this increase in consumer choice and its corresponding intensification of competition among suppliers to find ways to maximize the benefits to consumers.
With reform of copyright law EU policymakers must avoid being coerced into defending a status quo that suits a particular set of commercial interests. Last December, the Commission correctly identified the flaws in Europe’s fragmented approach to copyright levies.
Yet in its proposal for reform published last month copyright levies reform was skipped. Since then the Commission has said it may still take action to address what has been dubbed the ‘cassette tax’. There can’t be a digital single market when each EU country takes a different approach to copyright levies. Charging consumers many times over for the right to listen to the same piece of music, for example, is not only inefficient and inconsistent, it’s downright unfair.
We wholeheartedly support the aims of the Digital Single Market. We also support policymakers’ efforts to make consumers feel more confident in the digital world. While confident consumers are good for business, it is also true that confident businesses are good for consumers too.
Photo credits: Don McCullough
Even though ‘traditional’ public service TV and radio remain very popular, we want to consolidate the important role public service media has to play in the digital environment, says Nicola Frank, Head of European Affairs of the EBU. Here’s her opinion on the main legislative proposals of the Digital Single Market strategy.
The Digital Post: What are the priority issues for EBU on the EU digital policy agenda?
Nicola Frank: Digital Single Market policies are crucial because they will impact the way programmes are licensed, distributed and presented to viewers. We want to make sure that our content reaches citizens on all devices, which calls for licensing tools which are fit for the digital environment as well as rules ensuring that all relevant networks carry our programmes, and significant platforms and interfaces display our services prominently to users. This is very important for cultural diversity and media pluralism.
The way citizens access TV and radio programmes has evolved extremely fast in recent years. Even though ‘traditional’ public service TV and radio remain very popular – reaching 59% and 44% of Europeans respectively every week – we want to consolidate the important role public service media has to play in the digital environment. This is very much at the heart of EBU members’ strategies today.
As part of its digital strategy, the EU already made a very important step towards effective net neutrality. Now we need to build on this first important stepping stone with the recent proposals on the audiovisual media services directive, the telecoms review and the copyright proposals.
TDP: What are the challenges for broadcasters in the recent telecoms review?
NF: From our perspective, the Telecoms review will impact the way our programmes are distributed on the various electronic communication networks – Digital Terrestrial Television, satellite, cable and IPTV. There is an opportunity within this review to strengthen the tools Member States have at their disposal to ensure that public service media programmes can be accessed on all key networks and on various devices. For example, ‘must-carry rules’ should be updated to match the fact that there are more means to distribute programmes and more on offer today, in particular interactive and on-demand services.
TDP: The copyright proposal has been criticised by many in Brussels and you are one of the few being quite positive, why is this?
NF: Yes, the proposal for a Regulation on broadcasters’ online content has caused quite an interesting reaction. Having analysed the proposal, we believe the Commission’s plans represent a balanced licensing solution. Effective licensing mechanisms are essential because assembling and distributing programmes implies that public service media organizations navigate through complex negotiations to obtain all the necessary licenses.
The proposal confirms contractual freedom and is in line with territoriality, principles which are at the very heart of the content-funding model. It should however be possible, for example, for Europeans who reside outside their homeland to access programmes from back home when they go online. When broadcasters wish to make a programme available across borders, then there should be adequate licensing tools out there to turn this will into a reality.
TDP: As part of the copyright discussions, broadcasters regularly mention the Satellite and Cable Directive. Where does that fit in?
NF: The Satellite and Cable Directive of 1993 is an interesting model because it has unlocked access to broadcasters’ programmes across borders on satellite and cable networks. It introduced effective licensing mechanisms for satellite transmissions and retransmissions on cable networks, which have shown that territoriality can co-exist with the Internal Market. For example, the Italian public channel RAI 1 is available in 20 EU Member States via cable with the exception of certain premium content, and those of us living here in Brussels can watch Sherlock on the BBC on Belgian cable without any problem. Around 1500 free-to-air satellite channels without encryption are available across Europe.
TDP: How are public broadcasters impacted by the proposals to update the AVMS Directive published earlier this year? From your point of you, how could the proposal be improved?
NF: The AVMS Directive covers subjects which are of major importance for public service media: informed citizenship, the protection of minors from harmful content and the promotion of European and domestic programmes to name but a few. They represent fundamental objectives for European audiovisual media policies. But what has changed is how these objectives are met in the digital environment.
The audiovisual media services Directive should be updated to ensure that valuable content for society is prominently displayed and easily accessed where citizens go to get audiovisual programmes in today’s digital environment. We want our contribution to society to be effective in this rapidly-evolving audiovisual landscape: we offer impartial and diverse information, a gateway to European content – over 80% of our EBU members’ airtime – and safe, informative spaces for users, especially minors.
Facilitating access to our members’ programmes is all the more important because powerful and VOD and OTT providers’ impact on the individual viewers’ choice and consumption is growing steadily. The Audiovisual media services Directive needs to give Member States the possibility to address access and appropriate prominence of public service media programmes.
The role of video-sharing platforms and social media also needs to be examined. Obviously, you cannot regulate them like audiovisual media service providers who exercise editorial responsibility. But there needs to be a basic set of rules to protect minors and tackle hate speech because of the importance of these platforms in the digital environment, in particular for younger audiences.