French regulation of on-demand audiovisual media services is becoming clearer. Following the adoption of the decree issued on November 12 2010 - which sets out the rules concerning quotas, advertising and sponsorship - the broadcasting regulatory authority, the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA), published its decision relating to:
- the protection of young audiences;
- the ethical issues raised; and
- the accessibility of programmes made available to the public in these new services.
This decision falls within the scope of Article 12 of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive,(1) which provides that:
"Member States shall take appropriate measures to ensure that on-demand audiovisual media services provided by media service providers under their jurisdiction which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of minors are only made available in such a way as to ensure that minors will not normally hear or see such on-demand audiovisual media services."
This new digital means of providing audiovisual content has prompted vigilance by the authorities in light of the extensive freedom of choice offered to users. The multiple video-on-demand services on offer may expose minors to unsuitable content.
On December 14 2010 the CSA extended the ratings rules used by traditional television services for the protection of minors to providers and distributors of on-demand media services, in order to regulate the display of content that may harm the sensitivity of a young audience.
The CSA intends to promote:
"coordination between content providers with a view to harmonising the ratings applied to the programmes which are made available to the public through on-demand audiovisual media services in order to enable all viewers to benefit from the same level of protection and information, which is necessary if they are to exercise their freedom of choice with an informed decision."
It also encourages providers and distributors of on-demand audiovisual media services to promote technical systems that allow restrictions to programme access by minors, based on their age and the programme's rating.
The CSA applies the same rating standards as those used by television broadcasters, based on five levels of appropriateness for minors:
- Category I - suitable for all ages;
- Category II - not recommended for viewers under 10;
- Category III - not recommended for viewers under 12;
- Category IV - not recommended for viewers under 16; and
- Category V - not recommended for viewers under 18.
In this respect, the CSA reminds providers that they may, as a minimum, use the ratings issued by the French national film council, the Centre National du Cinéma et de l'Image Animée, for feature films released in cinemas.
These ratings must be displayed in the form of a logo (showing the age requirement superimposed on a white circle) and must be legible by users of the service. The logo must be brought to the audience's attention every time the programme is mentioned, in particular on the images and specifications in catalogues and in trailers, excerpts or advertisements. The ratings must also be visible when the viewer chooses to view the programme, either:
- full-screen before the beginning of the programme for a minimum duration of five seconds, alongside the rating description; or
- throughout the viewing of the programme, in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
To facilitate the visibility of the offer and parental control, the CSA decision requires providers to add a 'confidence area' section to their catalogues that will recommend only those programmes that are:
- suitable for all public viewers;
- dedicated to families and young audiences; and
- devoid of any content, trailers or advertisements that contain inappropriate images for minors.
The CSA regulates Category V content by laying down strict conditions on broadcasting. Such content must be marketed exclusively in the form of paid-for offers - either on subscription or pay-per-view - and be preceded by a warning. Moreover, the CSA requires the implementation of a security wall with a personal password. Broadcasting is limited to between 10:30pm and 5:00am, unless the subscriber submits a copy of his or her identity card certifying that he or she is over 18, which will enable programmes to be viewed at any time.
The CSA has also extended this time-slot restriction to free-to-view Category IV programmes. Therefore, popular television series that are not recommended for viewers under the age of 16 are prohibited from being broadcast on free-to-view services, including catch up TV, between 5:00am and 10:30pm.
The area reserved for Category V programmes is subject to a specific locking system with the implementation of the following requirements:
- Access to the programmes will be relocked after each request for access;
- The user cannot disable the locking tools;
- The locking tool consists of a personal access code (for subscription services) or of payment details (for pay-per-view services);
- The personal access code must have at least four digits (excluding 0000), must not be visible on screen and must block the would-be user after five failed attempts; and
- This personal code is exclusively dedicated to access to Category V programmes.
These rules apply to on-demand media services provided in France or under French law (in particular, where the service is mainly targeted at a French audience). The decision came into force on January 1 2011. Non-compliance with this rating rule is subject to the usual penalties that can be ordered by the CSA pursuant to the Communication Act, such as a fine or possible suspension of the provider's services or a part of its programming.
However, some provisions of this CSA decision (including the insertion of logos and access to Category V content) will not apply until September 2011 or January 2012. In addition, providers of on-demand audiovisual media services may apply to the CSA for an extension of the time limit for inserting logos into their catalogues, provided that they have legitimate grounds.
For further information on this topic please contact Sabine Deloges at Nomos by telephone (+33 01 43 18 55 00), fax (+33 01 43 18 55 55) or email ([email protected]).