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date: 26 January 2021

Defining “TV-Like” Content in a Multimedia Eralocked

  • Marko Ala-FossiMarko Ala-FossiSchool of Communication, Media and Theatre, University of Tampere


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.

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