EU regulation of television began in the late 1980s when satellite technology enabled pan-European broadcasting for the first time. Rather than oblige a transfrontier broadcaster to seek a licence from the broadcast regulator in each market, the AVMS directive (previously known as Television without Frontiers) states that a licence from the Country of Origin is also recognised throughout Europe.
This is in line with the case law of the Court of Justice of the EU. In exchange for the recognition of a national licence, the directive imposes detailed obligations on all broadcasters (effectively ‘writing in’ these obligations to the national regulator’s licence). These cover protection of minors from unsuitable content, programming quotas, and commercial communication.
The 1989 text covered television broadcasters. Even by 2005, it was clear that this definition was becoming less clear with the market entry of new media operators. The revision of the directive in 2007 therefore introduced two tiers, one of general obligations for ‘non-linear’ audiovisual services and one for scheduled broadcast (or ‘linear’) services. The sustainability of this approach is currently under review at the European Commission.
The AVMS directive contains a common set of rules around advertising standards – notably that it must not mislead the consumer – and products, including a ban on tobacco advertising and restrictions around advertising to children. These rules apply to all audiovisual content services.
But there are also many extremely detailed rules about programme sponsorship, product placement and spot advertising, limiting the amount of advertising time and even in some cases where it can be scheduled. These legacy rules apply only to broadcast services.