The emerging online technology of ’video-on-demand’ may help foster pluralism in the European audiovisual landscape but it may also necessitate an extension of the Television without Frontiers (TWF) directive to new forms of media. Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education held a public hearing on 13 September to hear both sides of this emerging issue.

The European Commission plans to revise the TWF directive this autumn and Parliament adopted an own-initiative report by Henri WEBER (PES, FR) on the application of Articles 4 and 5 of the directive on 6 September in Strasbourg. This week’s hearing - No Freedom Without Pluralism: Revision of the Directive "Television Without Frontiers" - centred around the interrelated questions of new distribution technologies and the need to preserve media pluralism.

Some specialists conceived of the new technologies in audiovisual media as simply a new manner of distribution. "A film is still a film" said Valdo LEHARI (European Publishers Association). This view was shared by Fabio COLESANTI (European Commission), who insisted that access was the key to media pluralism - and that better access need not go hand-in-hand with increased regulation.

Riccardo PERISSICH (Telecom Italia Media) also argued that quantitative quotas and regulations would only be counterproductive, since the new technologies already showed a ’long-tail’ effect: He claimed that online music vendors had noticed that the "10 000 best-sold tracks accounted for less than fifty percent of total sales", making them likely to offer a wide variety of choices for consumers.

On the other hand, Yvon THIEC (Association of TV and Film Producers EUROCINEMA) pointed out that 20% of cultural products account for 80% of the sector’s revenue today, and feared that this ratio would not change simply because of new technologies. He warned of an imminent "revolution in the history of television", through the replacement of a linear form of distribution by a non-linear one. Mr Thiec contended that, although traditional quotas may not be technically feasible for non-linear systems, regulation of new media was still necessary in order to defend Europe’s cultural pluralism.

Simona GRANATA-MENGHINI (Consitutional Cooperation Unit, Venice Commission, Council of Europe) also supported regulation, maintaining that media pluralism was enshrined as a human right by Article 11 of the European Charter of Human Rights. Seeking the middle ground, Olivier COURSON (Canal Plus) warned that overregulation could stifle technological innovation in the sector but that deregulation could endanger the already fragile financing of new European productions.

Henri WEBER stated that to avoid "the American tendency" of disrupting serious programming in television for advertising purposes, regulative action was necessary. Christa PRETS (PES, AT) worried about the protection of minors in the new, non-linear media, while several MEPs expressed concern about product placement and its effect on the quality of television programming.