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DCB to regulate for online content

Over the weekend, when plenty of people were enjoying the final days of the Olympics, government announced its plans to align regulations around online and TV content.

Introducing the plans, Broadcasting Minister Amy Adams acknowledged that on-demand content “is either regulated inconsistently or not at all”, which government plans to address. The new Digital Convergence Bill (DCB) will make changes to the current Broadcasting Act to confirm that on-demand content is not subject to the Film, Videos, and Publications Classification Act, but will be captured in the same way TV content is.

Although no detail was given, the standards (to be policed by the BSA as they are for TV) will presumably be more similar to those for pay TV than for free-to-air broadcasts. It would, for example, be pretty dumb to require on-demand providers to make AO content available only after 8.30pm. It’s unclear whether stronger warnings will be required for on-demand programming. The new standards won’t apply to news programming, or user-generated content “such as Facebook or YouTube videos”.

The new DCB will also open the door for TV broadcasters to carry advertising on Sunday mornings “during significant events”. The networks have argued for several years that the Sunday morning ban on adverts is anachronistic. It will be interesting to see how much appetite TVNZ and MediaWorks have for arguing with regulators about what constitutes a “significant” event in a period of audience fragmentation.

Becoming a multi-ethnic country hasn’t completely trumped National’s preference for Judeo-Christian ethics just yet. While God will continue to defend New Zealand except when the Rugby World Cup is on, government isn’t yet prepared to allow anything less godly than network promos to interrupt programming on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Anzac Day and Christmas Day.

In a separate, broader announcement yesterday about its work on convergence government noted

Better broadband is putting large volumes of global and digital content at the fingertips of New Zealanders. Already, around one-in-four New Zealanders are tuning in to an on-demand video service each day.

Despite being keen to celebrate the increasing amount of content, ways to access it and 1Gbps connections to a lot of places where hardly anybody lives as wins for the roll-out of UFB, government has drawn the line at increasing the amount of local content that will be available.

“We also considered the funding mechanisms that support New Zealand content,” said Adams, “and were satisfied that the existing arrangements through NZ On Air and Te Māngai Pāho contained sufficient flexibility to respond well to convergence.”

While the two agencies have both supported digital-only content, this sounds like National for “Let them eat cake” – an ideological decision to do nothing in case it lead to suggestions government should increase the amount of cash it gives to agencies to support local content creation.