Disliking like

I have a new article in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of British Cinema and Television. JBCTV (Edinburgh University Press) is a journal that I have read and cited for some time, so it’s a particular pleasure to be published in it after all that.

The paper is entitled ‘TV-like’: aesthetics, quality and genre in the regulation of video-on-demand services (link is to pre-print version hosted by Newcastle University; updated link to final version will follow). It explores, in more detail than was possible in the on-demand chapter of Medium Law (chapter 6), the way in which ATVOD and Ofcom interpreted and implemented certain provisions of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) concerning on-demand services. A big sticking point was working out, as required by the law, whether on-demand services were ‘comparable’ to the form and content of television services. Down the rabbit hole I went, and (with encouragement from my friend and sometime collaborator Keith M. Johnston in particular, and a most enjoyable presentation of a very early draft at an ECREA workshop in beautiful Aarhus), I found myself exploring whether the methods and conclusions of Ofcom could be better informed by other aspects of television studies. This arises because Ofcom needed to work out how to respond to the content of on-demand services, under headings such as titles and credits, the duration of the works, the quality of production, and much more. Of course, while all of this was being finished off, ATVOD’s functions were being folded back into Ofcom, and the European Commission was getting the rewrite of the AVMSD on track, so the article ends up as more of a reflection on an experiment, with an eye to how things might be better handled in future.

Here’s the full abstract, anyway, and hopefully some will find it of interest.

From 2010 to 2015, video-on-demand services in the UK were regulated by the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD), under an agreement with the statutory regulator Ofcom and applying the pan-European standards introduced through the 2007 EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive. A key question for the regulators and for service providers was whether any given service fell within the ‘scope’ of the law – that is, which services met the legal definition of an on-demand audiovisual media service. This is a study of how Ofcom exercised its role as the final arbiter of that definition, through a close examination of its 15 decisions in appeals against initial determinations by ATVOD. The use of the legal test for ‘comparability’ with conventional television services, and the regulatory focus on ‘TV-like’ on-demand services, has demonstrated the significance of production and aesthetics as a determinant of regulation. In particular, production decisions regarding titles, credits, and duration, as well as a range of issues of perceived quality (audio, video, voiceover, editing, and the like), have been taken into account. It is contended that Ofcom has relied on focus group research, rather than on wider insights from television studies research, in assessing these factors, and that the underlying Directive may have been flawed in its concepts and definitions.

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