Defining “TV-Like” Content in a Multimedia Era
Summary and Keywords
In the European Union, “television-like” is a legal concept, introduced in 2007 as a part of a political compromise over the scope of the new Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). The European Commission had originally intended to expand the new rules on linear television programming to cover also all new nonlinear audiovisual content services intended for the same audiences online. This approach was objected to by the U.K. government, which saw it as potentially harmful for the growth of the new online media. Although left practically alone in the opposition in the EU decision-making process, the U.K. government managed with the support of the U.K. regulator Ofcom and the U.K. industry alliance to limit the new directive to cover only “television-like” online services. According to AVMSD Recital 24, these services should “compete for the same audience as television broadcasts” while “the concept of ‘programme’ should be interpreted in a dynamic way taking into account developments in television broadcasting.” The vagueness of this concept has left room for very different and even opposing interpretations. A number of national regulatory authorities in Europe as well as the Court of Justice of the European Union argue that parts of some newspaper’s websites can also be classified as video-on-demand services, while Ofcom has systematically excluded all the audiovisual services on the websites of British newspapers from regulation.
Creating a clear definition of “TV-like” content or services is difficult not just because of the vague wording of the EU directive or digital media convergence, but because the whole concept is based on another set of concepts, which definitions are highly dependent on time and context: television, program, and channel as a practice of packaging content into a linear transmission schedule. Early TV was indeed showing radio programming in production, or radio with pictures. From a contemporary perspective, full-length films may seem to be typical content for television, but most of them have originally been made for theatrical distribution. Over the years, audiovisual media formerly known as television has expanded on multiple platforms and its content has also been available in different on demand-type formats for several decades. So depending on your perspective, there is either a plentitude of “TV-like” content services besides the genuine TV or a wide variety of different flavors of television. Currently, it can be argued whether TV is in terminal decline or just integrating with mobile and online media, but it is obvious that any efforts to define “TV-like” content could make sense only as long the traditional, linear type of (broadcast) TV continues to have an important role in our societies and media cultures.
We are living in an age where the established definitions of television are blurring in all dimensions. Practically any device with a screen may now provide you the moving pictures and sounds of television even without being a dedicated television receiver, provided that you have a fast Internet connection. On the other hand, it is becoming more and more difficult to say which organizations and players are part of the television industry and which are not, because media organizations, which traditionally used to publish printed newspapers, are now publishing also audiovisual (journalistic) content on their websites online—or while an Internet retail company like Amazon, which was originally an online bookseller, is producing its own big-budget motoring show for web audiences. Do you actually watch television if you tap your tablet screen and watch those programs online? According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, television program has become one of the “broken concepts” (ACMA, 2011, p. 72). Consequently, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to define what “TV-like” content is—in other words, content which is very much like the actual TV program content and which may be used to fully or partly substitute for TV, but which in some fundamental way still differs from the content of actual TV.
However, from a certain regulatory perspective, making this distinction can be a matter of the utmost importance. This article examines first the introduction and the meaning of the concept of “TV-like” content in the context of the European Union and then takes a closer look at the United Kingdom, which has had a key role in the overall European development. The third section provides a historical overview of the boundaries of television, while the fourth and final section discusses how long it will be necessary—or possible—to distinguish between TV content and “TV-like” content.
The idea of TV-like services of the future had been discussed in Europe already in the mid-1990s in relation to the digitalization of broadcasting, which in any case was supposed to challenge all the earlier definitions of television (e.g., SOU, 1996, p. 25). The rapid changes in the audiovisual market after the introduction of digital television made the European Union update its legal framework of television broadcasting, the so-called Television Without Frontiers Directive (TVWFD), as early as 1997, and the increasing supply of new Internet-based audiovisual services led into another update proposal in 2005. The original draft text (EC, 2005a) of the new directive was intended to be technologically neutral by decreasing (linear) TV regulation while extending it to cover also new (nonlinear) audiovisual media services for the same audiences online.
This approach was however strongly objected to by the U.K. government, which saw it as potentially harmful for the growth of the new online media. Although left practically alone in the opposition in the EU decision-making process, with the support of Ofcom and the U.K. industry alliance, the U.K. government managed to limit the new Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) to cover online only “TV-like” services (Valcke, Lefever, & Ausloos, 2012; Williams, 2007). Contrary to the original idea about similar rules for similar content on all platforms, the rules for the “TV-like” nonlinear, on-demand type of audiovisual services were also less strict than those for linear services, including TV broadcasting. In December 2005, the European Commission had referred to regulating “digital era TV and TV-like services” in a press release (EC, 2005b) about the proposed update for the TVWFD, but the introduction of the notion of “television-like” also as a legal concept in the text of AVMSD was a result of the U.K. lobbying effort (Williams, 2007). Although the European Union Committee of the U.K. House of Lords was very satisfied with the success in limiting the scope of the new directive, it was also rather concerned because “there is not sufficient legal certainty over precisely what these [TV-like] services are” (HL, 2007, p. 6). The original preamble of the directive was actually much more explicit in defining what they are not (electronic versions of newspapers and magazines, private websites, user-generated audiovisual content, as well as radio and audio services).
The definition of “audiovisual media service” for the age of convergence became rather complex as there are seven cumulative criteria which have to be met in order for the AVMSD to be applied in the first place. The directive regulates only 1) an economic service 2) under editorial responsibility 3) of which the principal purpose is 4) the provision of programs 5) in order to inform, educate, or entertain 6) the general public 7) by electronic communications networks. This set of criteria has turned out be much less technologically neutral and future-proof than it was intended, and perhaps the least successful has been the one based on the concept of program (Valcke & Ausloos, 2014). According to Article 1(1) b of the AVMSD, a program is “a set of moving pictures with or without sound constituting an individual item within a schedule or a catalogue established by a media service provider and whose form and content is comparable to the form and content of television broadcasting.”
While there is no separate definition for television in this directive, Article 1(1) e defines television broadcasting as “an audiovisual media service provided by a media service provider for simultaneous viewing of programmes on the basis of a programme schedule” (i.e., as a linear channel). After these definitions, it is still unclear what constitutes the “television-likeness” of the programs. However, Recital 24 of the nonbinding preamble of the AVMSD tries to explain how the comparability to TV broadcasting should be understood, but in practice this definition remains rather inexplicit (Cabrera Blazquez, 2013; Valcke & Ausloos, 2014).
It is characteristic of on-demand audiovisual media services that they are ‘television-like’, i.e., that they compete for the same audience as television broadcasts, and the nature and the means of access to the service would lead the user reasonably to expect regulatory protection within the scope of this Directive. In the light of this and in order to prevent disparities as regards free movement and competition, the concept of ‘programme’ should be interpreted in a dynamic way taking into account developments in television broadcasting.
(EU, 2010, p. 3)
According to Cabrera Blazquez (2013), the vague and partly subjective concept of “TV-likeness” has left the European national regulatory authorities lots of room for different interpretations. After actively lobbying for the concept of “TV-like,” the U.K. regulatory authority Ofcom has spent time and effort to make the most of the new concept. It has commissioned at least two studies (in 2009 and 2012) to provide a working definition for “TV-like” (Essential, 2012), but in 2013, the U.K. House of Lords referred to continuing problems in defining “TV-like” in their report about media convergence while at the same time confirming the usefulness of “TV-like” as a concept (HL, 2013, p. 14). Ofcom also created in 2010 a separate regulatory agency for on-demand television, Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), but the relationship between Ofcom and its co-regulator turned out to be not completely unproblematic. In important milestone was the case of Sun Video in 2011. After an investigation ATVOD had decided that Sun Video, the video section of the tabloid newspaper’s website, was a “TV-like” audiovisual media service which should be regulated. However, Ofcom overturned this decision, claiming that the videos were too dependent on the text content of the website. This also made ATVOD later withdraw from investigating several other British newspaper websites (Katsirea, 2015, 2016; Metzdorf, 2014; Valcke & Ausloos, 2014).
In the meantime, the national regulators in several other EU member states in continental Europe (Austria, Denmark, Flanders/Belgium, Slovakia, and Sweden) found out in their own studies that parts of some newspapers’ websites should be classified as video-on-demand services (Katsirea, 2016; Metzdorf, 2014). In October 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) gave its judgment in a case initiated by the Austrian regulatory authority. According to the CJEU, the length of the online video clips is not relevant in deciding whether a service is “TV-like”—and audiovisual services provided by the newspapers should not be automatically excluded from regulation (CJEU, 2015; EPRA, 2016). This decision did not make the definition of “TV-like” services and content any easier for Ofcom. In its most recent research report about on-demand and online media, Ofcom used a model where predominantly long-form content is classified as “most ‘TV-like’” (regulated) while “least ‘TV-like,’” unregulated online content is understood to be predominantly short-form (Ofcom, 2016, p. 8).
At the end of 2015, Ofcom closed down the entire ATVOD and brought back all its duties “in-house.” According to an Ofcom statement and consultation given in December 2015, the main reasons for this organizational change were “convergence between linear television broadcasting and ODPS [on-demand programme services] and the extensive overlap in the identity of ODPS providers and broadcast licensees” (Ofcom, 2015, p. 5). It seems that making the distinction between TV services and “TV-like” services is becoming too difficult—or less important—even for Ofcom. Some other national regulators in Europe (e.g., in the Netherlands) have considered the concept of “TV-like” to be too vague ever to be defined in detail (Cabrera Blazquez, 2013), while Australia, for example, has avoided the entire problem simply by referring to “professional media content” by “significant media enterprises” (AG, 2012).
The European Commission proposal to revise again the AVMSD was published in May 2016. Although the new proposal aims to extend the definition of program to also cover online video contents of short duration and to repeal reference to “TV-likeness”, there were no changes proposed in the current definition of “television-like” (Cabrera Blázquez, Cappello, Fontaine & Valais, 2016; Kerrigan & Silver, 2016).
Another Point of View: The U.K. TV License Fee System and “TV-Like” Content
In 2006, while the U.K. government, Ofcom, and the U.K. industry alliance were lobbying for creation of a new regulatory concept of “TV-like,” the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)—as the public authority to which the U.K. Government (2003) gives the right to both collect and enforce TV license fee in the United Kingdom—was working on a new definition or at least a reinterpretation of television in order to protect and maintain its primary source of funding, the TV license fee system (Warren, 2006). According to Section 363 of Part 4 of the U. K. Government, 2003, a person with “a television receiver in his possession or under his control” and who “intends to install or use” it needs a TV license. But while Section 368 of the law gave a broad and technologically rather neutral legal definition for a television receiver as “any apparatus of a description specified in regulations,” it defined the use of TV receiver in a rather narrow way as “using it for receiving television programmes.” This means that even if the device is turned on for receiving any kind of content, as long as these contents are not TV programs, no license is needed either.
Such non-TV content was already available when the law was written. Digital radio services in the U.K. digital TV network had been introduced in October 2002, when the Freeview service was launched (BBC, 2002). The DVB radio services always offered a visual element on the TV screen identifying the channel and program, but the picture was still and not moving (TIG, 2012). This is why the BBC had to admit in March 2008 that no TV license was needed for listening to digital radio with a TV set if no TV programs were watched or recorded “as they are being shown” (BBC, 2008). As a consequence, the sheer ownership or installation of any kind of TV receiver device could no longer be used as a basis to require a TV license payment, which made the BBC funding system very dependent on the definition of TV program.
The BBC iPlayer was officially launched online in December 2007, about 10 years after the first BBC experiments with online video in 1997 (Thorsen, 2012), and about two weeks after the adoption of the new AVMSD by the European Parliament and Council. As the BBC iPlayer was at first primarily a TV catch-up service offering “TV-like” video on demand and just occasional live video streams (e.g., from the Beijing Olympics), most of the BBC iPlayer content was free to use most of the time without a valid TV license (Highfield, 2008). But when BBC1 was made available live online via BBC iPlayer in July 2008, it was made clear to the public that a TV license would be required even though the program could be received online without a regular TV set (Conlan, 2008). The users were constantly reminded about this legal obligation when opening the live program stream, but the whole BBC iPlayer service was still free to use in Britain without any control for user identification and exclusion. The TV license fee in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe has never been intended to be any kind of subscription payment for the content of public service broadcasting, but on the contrary, it has been used to guarantee free and universal access to information, education, and entertainment for all citizens (Ala-Fossi, 2016c).
Although the legal definitions of a television receiver in the U. K. Government, 2003 and in the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004 covered all devices for receiving any television program service, the program service was defined to be television only, when it was received at the same time by the members of the public. So the main difference between the use of genuine TV requiring a license and the use of “TV-like” content was in the reception of live and linear TV programming. This is why in the United Kingdom a TV license was required only if you are using any device for watching live TV programming or recording it to be watched later. If you never watched or recorded live TV and use only “TV-like” on-demand programs, no TV license was needed either. In practice, this means that exactly the same content produced for British television is TV content only at the very moment when it is distributed on live TV (broadcast and/or streamed). But after the time of live transmission, the same content becomes “TV-like,” which was free to watch on demand online without any TV license (in case you did not record the program yourself into a file from a live TV transmission). This strict and demanding legal definition of television with only live and/or time-shifted and linear program content—or alternatively, its by-product, a very wide definition of “TV-like” content—created the so-called “iPlayer loophole.”
Until 2013, U.K. television dealers were obliged to notify the authorities when a television set had been sold or rented. The original purpose of this relatively recently abandoned practice was to prevent any attempts for unlicensed use of television. TV license fee evasion (i.e., using live TV without a valid license) is still a criminal offense in the United Kingdom, which in extreme cases may lead even into imprisonment of non-payers (HC, 2015). But at the same time it is possible to legally install and use any device suitable for television reception without paying the TV license fee as long as it is not used for reception of live TV. The BBC was fully aware of the situation already in 2008, but considered this as a minor problem and opposed any changes to the license fee system suggested by the U.K. government in 2011 (Foster, 2011; Highfield, 2008). This may have made sense for the purpose of maintaining the TV licensing in the U.K. context at one time, but it is by no means a practical or future-proof approach. By that time, already over 400,000 British households had notified the TV licensing agency that they did not need a TV license (BBC, 2014).
In 2015, the BBC estimated that the current TV licensing system is likely to cause about £100 million annual loss of income a year within the next five years (BBC, 2015, p. 97). According to other estimates the loss could be even £150 million per year and growing, so the BBC supported the U.K. government proposal to close the iPlayer loophole (BBC, 2016; BBC Trust, 2015; Martinson, 2016). The need for reform is even more evident now that BBC3 has ceased to exist as a TV channel and a television service (Doyle, 2016). After February 2016, neither the digital terrestrial television network nor the BBC iPlayer provides live and linear programming for BBC3 any longer. Although BBC3 still remains as one of the available options in the BBC iPlayer channel menu and it continues to exist as a brand name for audiovisual services targeted for younger generations, it has become a “TV-like” service offering on-demand video.
In its effort to close the iPlayer loophole after September 1, 2016, the U.K. government decided not to change the definition of TV programming and instead to change the legal definition of a television receiver. Now any apparatus installed or used for receiving (a) any television program service (including also BBC TV) or (b) an on-demand program service provided by the BBC (excluding all the other providers) requires a valid TV license. A reform under which a TV license fee would be based simply on the possession of a device suitable for any broadcast or broadband TV service reception without making the PSB program services online an exception (like, e.g., in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden)—rather than a certain kind of use on particular contents—would have made the differences between live and linear TV content and other “TV-like” content online much less important. On the other hand, all these television-related definitions would be even less important if the license fee would be replaced with a special tax (like in Iceland and Finland).
As noted earlier, any definition of “TV-like” is inevitably dependent on understanding what is television—and vice versa, a definition of television based on concepts of program and channel (as a practice of packaging content into a linear transmission schedule) will always produce—even without any specific intention—a definition of what is not TV, but just TV-like in spite of its close resemblance. Despite the original intention to be technologically neutral and exclude any such characteristics of the content services which result from the choice of a particular platform, these definitions are always related to the temporal and spatial contexts in which they are made. Even though there are still nearly 10,000 homes in the United Kingdom with a valid black and white TV license and the use of a monochrome TV set (obviously with a set-top-box) for broadcast TV reception perfectly meets the official definition of a TV service, it would probably not meet the expectations for an acceptable TV service among most British people born after the 1990s (Baird, 2014; TV Licencing, 2016). It would not be TV as they have learned to know it, although it is very similar in many aspects.
Would It Be Possible to Provide a More Universal Definition of “TV-Like”?
Contemporary definitions of television and TV-like are always to some extent vague and will necessarily evolve with time (Cabrera Blazquez, 2013; Steemers, 2015). In order to find tools for more universal definitions, let’s take a brief look at the historical context and the development of television with an emphasis on the industrialized countries of the Western world.
The Boundaries of Television in the Early Broadcast Era
Although “television” as a new hybrid word was first coined by the beginning of the 20th century, the early pioneers did not necessary define their experiments as television. For example, while Charles F. Jenkins was able to demonstrate in the United States “radio-television” (wireless transmission of images) in 1923 (Abramson, 1998, p. 13) five years later he started to broadcast “radio movies” to be received with a radio receiver and a separate mechanical “Radiovisor” device for image reproduction with a rotating disc (ETF, 2008; Starr, 2004, p. 356). While mechanical television turned out to be a dead end, the development of electronic television would have been completely different without a close involvement of radio broadcasting organizations and their owners making large investments in new televisual media on both sides of the Atlantic. The broadcasters first understood television primarily as a visual form of radio broadcasting, and radio provided models for the organizational structure, program production, and systems for financing all of the new operations.
As a consequence of this, a lot of early TV broadcasting was indeed showing radio programming in production (Balk, 2008) or radio with pictures like the BBC radio news on BBC TV (1946–1954) over the picture of Big Ben (Crisell, 2002). At the same time, some of the commercially most successful radio shows (like Amos ’n’ Andy in the United States) were specially adapted to television. Television broadcasters were also able to buy and borrow content from another older branch of audiovisual media industry and so it became a new platform for films originally produced for theatrical distribution. It took some time—and again, there is certainly variation between different countries—but by the mid-1960s, TV had established its separate social and cultural role as an independent broadcast mass media with a linear flow of increasingly visual and also prerecorded contents designed for TV, always free at point of reception (Briggs & Burke, 2008; Williams, 1974). By that time, television was also standing on its own feet as an industry. The revenues from TV broadcasting in the United States and from TV license fee in the United Kingdom had surpassed income from radio already before the mid-1950s, while the TV license became the main source of revenue of public service broadcasters of Japan (NHK) in 1959 and Finland (Yle) in 1964 (Ala-Fossi, 2016a).
To summarize, early television was providing a lot of content originally financed by other sources than those directly related to (linear) broadcast television and it also provided lots of content originally produced for other purposes than television—some as such with no modifications and some as adapted for television use. A large proportion of the early television was also content which had originally been delivered on other platforms than those of linear television like old movies.
The Boundaries of Television in the Late Broadcast Era
The definition of television and its content did not remain unambiguous for long. Cable TV had been introduced already in the late 1940s as a new way to extend television reception especially in the rural America, but in 1968 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had the power to regulate both broadcast television and cable television as well, “yet from a constitutional point of view nothing could be more different than cable television and television” (de Sola Pool, 1983, p. 161). Ithiel de Sola Pool was basing his claim mainly on the fact that cable TV did not use any radio spectrum, unlike broadcast TV. At the same time, he wanted to neglect the fact that cable TV was both intended and able to redeliver broadcast TV (both terrestrial and satellite) as well as other visual content to subscribers. Because of its more limited availability—usually based on subscription—cable TV and its contents got in many countries a bit different and usually somewhat lighter regulatory treatment than broadcast TV and its contents.
Another new form of television was introduced in the 1960s as it became possible to use satellites for transcontinental TV content delivery and distribution. One of the milestones of satellite TV development was the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, televised live worldwide via satellite (Ala-Fossi, 2016a). While satellite TV provided the means to cover large geographic areas with programming services without building (much) terrestrial infrastructure, it opened up possibilities for new content services especially in countries with a large territory and population. In the case of satellite TV, a strictly national regulation of content turned out to be difficult, as the country of the origin of the satellite broadcasts was not necessarily the same as that where the content was received. However, for most viewers, cable and satellite TV contents were just two new flavors of TV broadcasting.
A third new dimension was introduced in the 1970s, when home video recording made it possible to start producing and using content, which was not linear or broadcast television, but “TV-like” as a possible complete substitute for TV. At the same time as people had a chance for the first time to create their own very content for TV use (while amateur film-making had become possible already in the 1920s), video recorders provided also new means for on-demand use of audiovisual content at home. A significant part of it was also time-shifting, primarily complementing regular live TV (Baird, 2013; Williams, 1974), while a growing industry of producing, selling, and renting audiovisual content on tape—and relatively soon also on digital disc—made it possible to spend your time by watching audiovisual content on your home TV screen without actually watching any live TV content.
To summarize, this was the point when it became possible to fully substitute linear and live TV at home with audiovisual content originally formulated for types of consumption other than those of linear television (e.g., with films made exclusively for video distribution) or with content consumed in ways different from those of linear television (not watching TV live but instead on demand).
The Boundaries of Television in the Multimedia Era
Digital integration of television and computing was one of the visions of the information society, but it took until the mid-1990s before it was possible to deliver digital video on both broadcast TV and Internet-based telecommunication networks. First in the United States and soon also in Europe, governments and industries became excited about the wonderful new opportunities through developing new digital interactive television. The European digital television was based on research and solutions developed originally for digital radio, but these two forms of broadcasting did not converge although “radio with pictures” approach was reintroduced on both new platforms. Despite high hopes, serious efforts and big investments, Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) for digital terrestrial TV did not fulfill the original promise for interactivity (Ala-Fossi, 2016a, 2016b). As a matter of fact, the brave new digital TV turned out in every aspect to be very much “TV-like”; increasing the number of channels rather than revolutionizing the types of content or the patterns of program consumption—even despite various trials with interactive and participatory TV concepts (Hellman, 2010; Tuomi, 2016).
Interactivity was also introduced few years later as an important feature of the new digital mobile TV, which combined digital mobile phone and digital broadcast TV by 2005. In Europe, this experiment was primarily based on a system developed by mobile phone manufacturer Nokia, which revived—or perhaps even reinvented—the concept of visual radio. Relatively soon the developers noticed that people using the new mobile TV devices did not prefer to watch regular live TV on the go, so normal episodes of TV content were condensed to new kind of “mobisodes” to match the sporadic watching patterns and small screens of mobile TV (Goggin, 2012; Ollikainen et al., 2011). There were also other problems related to delivering regular TV content in mobile TV use, as the mobile devices based on their own technical standards could not receive regular digital TV signal, but instead required a separate dedicated broadcast network and, consequently additional, copyright payments for TV simulcasts (Ala-Fossi, 2016a).
In the meantime, the amount of digital video content online as well as the availability of fast broadband Internet services grew steadily. New players entered the field of audiovisual content production as traditional media organizations—private and commercial as well as public and noncommercial—extended their operations into the online world. After the mid-2000s the importance of the Internet as a source of video content increased significantly. In the United States, a new service first based on user-generated content called YouTube was established in 2005, Amazon video streaming service in 2006, and Netflix started live streaming of movies for its subscribers in 2007. Most of the European public service broadcasters including the BBC had started online operations already in the 1990s and very soon also provided some of their broadcast TV content online. The BBC launched its new streaming media service iPlayer in 2007, first mainly as a catch-up service to provide TV programs online on demand, but since July 2008 also broadcast TV channels as a live stream starting with BBC1. In February 2016, BBC3 was closed down as a linear broadcast TV channel, but the BBC is providing audiovisual content online under the brand name BBC3.
To summarize, despite the relatively rapid development of new technological standards for television and platforms for distributing audiovisual content as well as the introduction of the new players in the field of audiovisual content production and distribution since the early 1990s, there are only very few things which in a historical perspective would be completely new. Even such a “novelty” as interactive content on television has a long history (Tuomi, 2016).
Conjoined Twins: If TV Would Die, So Would “TV-Like”
Audiovisual content originally financed by sources other than those of linear television existed before the introduction of the Internet. It is also rather obvious that audiovisual content originally produced for purposes completely other than linear television did exist before television, and it continues to be important as a part of regular TV content. Movies and later also serial programming have originally been produced for delivery on platforms completely different from linear television. Sometimes the content has also been formulated for other types of consumption than watching live and linear TV—and this kind of content has also been consumed in different ways from linear television. However, there are some combinations of the audiovisual content 1) funding, 2) production, 3) formulation, 4) distribution, and 5) consumption which may have not existed as such in the past decades and which may turn out to be distinctive when trying to define the difference between TV content and “TV-like” content. Consequently, such audiovisual content which differs from the contemporary mainstream TV content in any or all of these five aspects could perhaps be classified as “TV-like” content in the current multimedia era.
An increasing amount of investment in original audiovisual content production is coming outside of the traditional (broadcast) TV industry. This is the case especially in the United States, where the annual program spending budget of Netflix surpassed those of its closest rivals (HBO, Amazon, Hulu, and Showtime) already in 2014, and two years later, for the first time, those of the largest U.S. TV networks (Fox, Time Warner, Viacom, and CBS). In addition, Netflix has been spending its budget mostly on older movies and TV shows, but since 2012 it has been preparing its expansion to new markets by gradually increasing both the overall programming budget and the share of spending on original productions. This has been considered important especially for the European markets, where most of the European-originated audiovisual content productions are still funded by the traditional broadcasters (Shaw, 2016; Steemers, 2015; Yarow, 2015).
On the other hand, the four largest U.S. TV networks combined still use more than three times as much on programming as Netflix ($5–6 billion in 2016, depending on the source), which is still buying a lot of old TV content (Koblin, 2016; Shaw, 2016). In Europe, free-to-air and pay-TV generated altogether 99%of the €80 billion turnover of the European audiovisual industries in 2010, and almost half of this money was spent on programs and original production (Steemers, 2015). For example, in France and the United Kingdom, free-to-air broadcast television is the source of funding for about 80% of investments made in independent, original audiovisual production (Borrell, 2016). While the European audiovisual content regulation both on the supranational and on the national level as well as the relatively stable system of public service broadcasting continues to support original European and domestic audiovisual production, the revenues of linear TV in the EU have not been growing much in recent years (Fontaine, 2015). Perhaps it is a paradox, but TV seems to be producing and financing most of the “TV-like” content.
In July 2015, it was estimated that about 400 hours of video was uploaded to YouTube every minute (Statista, 2016). The service was originally intended for short-form and low-budget user-generated content, but it is becoming more and more common that TV broadcasters and production companies are marketing their programming content in YouTube by publishing some parts of it as special editions or even by creating separate YouTube “channels” for a TV channel or a series. So while YouTube certainly has a lot of content never intended to be used on linear television, there are also contents originally produced to be used on linear TV as well as contents promoting linear TV content. In addition, programs like RudeTube on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom have been efficiently transforming selected YouTube and other (viral) web video content into linear TV content since 2008. America’s Funniest Home Videos is another broadcast network TV show completely based on user-generated audiovisual materials (mostly not originally intended for TV use), which has been on the air since 1989. So even if the content has been intentionally produced and formulated for a purpose other than TV and originally delivered elsewhere than on TV, as soon as it is packaged in a proper way, it may be turned in to TV content. And in case such “TV-like” content is ever televised (i.e., distributed on linear TV channel on any platform), it becomes TV content—and in historical perspective it also remains so ever after.
The death of traditional, linear, and especially broadcast TV has been discussed since the 1990s, but now as terrestrial broadcast TV is losing more of its spectrum resources for mobile broadband use and both the supply and demand for alternative, Internet-based platforms for mobile and fixed audiovisual distribution are growing, an increasing number of future projections are suggesting that broadcast TV will become extinct—or at least in need of serious reevaluation—by 2030 (Ala-Fossi & Lax, 2016; Doyle, 2016). New digital platforms have certainly made the shift away from conventional types of television possible and opened up new options both for the established players and for new entrants. According to Steemers (2015, p. 66), “the most prominent feature of this new distribution culture in Europe is simply a massive increase in TV-like content centred on sports, serials, celebrities and other forms of popular entertainment” [emphasis added]. As noted earlier, traditional broadcasters—including European public service broadcasters like the BBC in the United Kingdom and Yle in Finland—are actively adapting their strategies to the new multiplatform distribution by creating new kinds of “TV-like” audiovisual contents for online and social media platforms, which are designed to support the main TV production. Both companies are even planning to develop their online services (BBC iPlayer and Yle Areena) as “the primary televisual entertainment environment” (Doyle, 2016, p. 696) or “the most important distribution channel of television” (Ala-Fossi & Lax, 2016, p. 14).
But would it be feasible or rational for the BBC, for example, to quit broadcast and/or linear TV—in other words, concentrate primarily on “TV-like” on-demand services? Most probably not, even if we would overlook all the problems of this scenario related to BBC funding and remit. The difference between live and linear TV and nonlinear “TV-like” service is not exactly between broadcasting and online, but in general, broadcast TV platforms have a good capacity for cost-efficient continuous linear mass distribution, but very limited means for nonlinear and on-demand types of service. At the same time, Internet-based TV platforms are capable of on-demand service and they are most cost-efficient in delivering shorter-form content, especially for a relatively limited group of recipients, no matter whether live. From a purely technical perspective, the difference between live and on-demand streaming is rather insignificant, as the data delivery process over the Internet is in both cases practically identical. Unlike in broadcasting, every single new user of online stream requires more bandwidth capacity. So as long as millions of people still prefer to watch the same content at the same time for many hours, broadcast TV networks are very hard if not impossible to fully replace with online delivery (Ala-Fossi & Lax, 2016; Doyle, 2016). It is perhaps illustrative that although the number of on-demand audiovisual services available in Europe is much lower than the number of services available for linear TV (including here free-to-air, cable, satellite, as well as IPTV) channels (Fontaine & Schneebeerger, 2015; Steemers, 2015) and the time spent using online video is also much shorter, streaming video is responsible for about 45.6% of peak-time Internet traffic in fixed networks in Europe and 35.9% in the mobile networks (Sandvine, 2015).
Time-shifting and other supplementary on-demand uses of online TV services are growing, as is the substitution of TV with online video services, especially among the younger generations, but the overall consumption of TV content is still primarily live and linear at the time of the transmission (Doyle, 2016; Steemers, 2015). In 2014, about 89% of the daily minutes used in the United Kingdom on viewing audiovisual content were spent on live (81%) and recorded (8%) linear TV (Borrell, 2016). Live and linear TV continues to rule in the United States and elsewhere in the world as well. According to a Global Web Index report, the average time spent watching linear television across 34 markets worldwide in 2015 was 2.52 hours—3.4 times more than with online TV (Mander, 2015).
It has taken more than 20 years from the original introduction of on-demand and online audiovisual content to reach this point. It is most likely that the supply of audiovisual content and services online will continue to grow—and with a bit faster pace in the next decades to come. Consequently, this means that making the distinction between “TV-like” content and TV will become both more difficult as well as more insignificant. While the traditional type of TV with content packaged as channels into a linear transmission schedule has been challenged, it is certainly not going to suddenly pass way any time soon. It can be argued whether TV is currently in terminal decline or just integrating more closely with mobile and online media, but it is obvious that any efforts to define “TV-like” content could make sense only as long the traditional, linear type of (broadcast) TV continues to have an important role in our societies and media cultures.
Discussion of the Literature
The following list of literature has four main threads, just as this article itself has four sections. First, there are academic research articles focusing on the European media policy and law and especially on the AVMSD, its context, interpretation, and implementation in the EU. While there are relatively few articles about the original process of formulating the directive and creating the regulatory concept of “television-like,” the difficulties and disputes in interpreting this concept and implementing the AVMSD by the national regulators have attracted much more recent scholarly attention. The list of literature for further reading contains all the most relevant academic articles about “TV-likeness” as a legal and regulatory concept on the European level as well as a couple of recent major books and articles focusing on the changing concept of television. All the official documents like laws, statutes, and directives as well as court decisions containing references directly or indirectly to the concept “TV-like” have been listed as primary sources together with the other publications commissioned or published by public institutions and used as references for this article.
The second section of this article and the second thread seen in the works cited are about the development of the U.K. TV licensing practice after the introduction of digital television and the BBC online services. Although this issue and the growing tension between the enforcement of the law concerning the TV license fee evasion in the United Kingdom and a completely legal way to avoid the TV license fee by using only recorded versions of TV programs as “TV-like” on-demand content have raised a lot of public discussion, political debate, and government proposals in the United Kingdom, for some reason there have been very few if any academic articles about the topic so far. This is why the article relies here mostly on official documents, newspaper articles, and BBC publications as well as the TV licensing website.
The third section describes the overall historical development and expansion of television and the continuing fluctuation of its boundaries between other non-TV and TV-like media. This section is largely based on the some of the most classic academic publications on television, some major books and articles on media and television history, and some recent works examining the history and development of European digital broadcasting standards and their relation to convergence. The fourth section deals with the most topical perspectives on creating and distributing TV content and TV-like content in the multimedia environments. Because the focus of the section is on ongoing developments in the European and American television and audiovisual media industry, the final part of the article is mainly based on newspaper and trade journal articles as well as online publications of some trusted research institutions, the Mavise database of the European Audiovisual Observatory (mavise.obs.coe.int), and a small number of recently published academic book chapters and journal articles.
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