The European Union's top regulator proposed extending rules for traditional television broadcasters to the fast-developing area of online film-and-video providers on Tuesday.

Under new rules proposed by the European Commission, some of the requirements currently imposed on traditional broadcasters would be applied to film and video-on-demand providers.

Nanny Europe

While this would not include some of the requirements traditional broadcasters face, such as bans on advertising certain types of products like tobacco or medicines or quotas on the amount of European-produced films they offer, it would include some measures such as having to provide a "culturally diverse" range of content. "This might involve requirements in terms of the catalogue they offer," said Martin Selmayr, a European Commission spokesman.

Other requirements to be applied to online service providers include proposals protecting children from unsuitable material and preventing online racial hatred.

The new rules have come under fire from the European Internet Service Providers Association (EurISPA). The Commission failed to justify why it needed to extend the current rules to new service providers, according to Richard Nash, secretary-general of EurISPA. He quoted a recent report by the UK's telecommunications regulator Ofcom, saying that the risks of applying the traditional rules to new forms of service providers "outweighed the benefits."

Inconsistent strategy

He also criticised the way that the Commission proposed new basic rules for all 25 EU member states, but left it up to each national government to decide how to enforce those rules: "To build a single market for online services across the EU you need consistency. The Commission's approach will put a major obstacle in the way of businesses developing new products." The online services market is still in its infancy, he said, but the sector needs "business certainty" to have incentives to develop new services and content for consumers.

He said that his section of the industry was not sufficiently consulted by the Commission when it drew up the new rules: "The online service provider world is desperate to be a part of the process and get our views across. But this isn't happening," Nash said.

Benefits the status quo?

However, the rule changes proposed by the Commission are much more beneficial for traditional broadcasters and their advertisers. Under the changes outlined Tuesday, product placement would be allowed in programmes broadcast in the EU provided viewers are informed at the start of the show. Advertisers would also have more flexibility over when to place ads during film and programs, although the maximum limit of 12 minutes of advertising for every hour of broadcasting would remain. Quotas for the percentage of European-made films and program in a broadcaster's output will also remain at the same level.

The new rules will have to be approved by representatives of member state governments and members of the directly elected European Parliament before coming into force.