The Media Authorities classified a streaming channel showing Let's Play videos 24/7 as broadcaster with far-reaching consequences.

The Media Authorities in Germany are competent to license and control commercial radio and television in Germany. The Commission for Admission and Controlling of the Media Authorities (ZAK) objected to the “PietSmietTV” internet offering. PietSmiet's team is one of the most successful Let’s Players in Germany (over 2 million YouTube subscribers, more than 300,000 Twitch followers, well over 2 billion video views). The Let's Play video programming playing 24/7 on the Twitch channel was classified as broadcasting by the Media Authorities. When requesting "PietSmietTV" to obtain a broadcasting license by April 30, 2017, the channel refused and instead went offline.

The classification as broadcaster has far-reaching consequences. First of all, a license needs to be obtained, a bureaucratic effort associated with a one-time fee of between EUR 1,000 and EUR 10,000. In addition, broadcasters need to ensure compliance with the special youth protection and advertising sponsoring requirements. This may even mean, for example: No “GTA 5” games before midnight.

Accordingly, there is a lot of commotion on the internet. Providers and users are making several allegations: “Censorship! Politicians have found a new business model. The internet is over-regulated. The freedom of YouTubers is being curtailed.”

In the meantime, the Media Authorities are referring to applicable law by which they were bound and stressed that they were merely applying the German Interstate Broadcasting Treaty. They would now be able to perform their duties also on the internet, specifically to ensure that human rights, diversity, and the protection of minors and users were respected.

It remains to be seen what the consequences of expanding the notion of broadcasting will be. Other live streamers may be classified as broadcasters. Not every live streaming is broadcasting that requires a license, however. Audiovisual media services are classified as broadcasting only if they

  • are distributed in a linear manner, i.e., live,
  • can be viewed by more than 500 spectators/users simultaneously,
  • have editorial content, and
  • are distributed based on a regular broadcast schedule.

This does not include pure on demand videos, where content is accessible, in a non-linear manner. Subscription services such as Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu are not affected, either.