In its second annual review, ATVOD (the Authority for Television On Demand) details how the regulation of VOD services has matured and developed. Included in this, the organisation has outlined its tough action intended to protect children from porn videos online.
The media regulators have investigated over 20 UK-based adult video services in recent months, and in the April 2011-March 2012 report, BootyBox.tv is cited as a success, as the site closed after ATVOD issued the operators with an Enforcement Notification. This required the business to either remove its adult video content, or place it behind ‘effective access controls’ to protect children.
Since the start of April 2012, ATVOD has launched a further 23 investigations, and found only 10 of these were complying with its rules. The 13 others were found to be in breach of the statutes as they featured R18-level material which could be accessed by under-18s. Of the 13, two have closed rather than adapt and seven have adopted changes to make themselves compliant. The other four have been referred to Ofcom, which can impose financial penalties or effectively close the services down.
Looking forward, the report also confirms Ofcom has extended ATVOD’s regulatory designation until 2020 and has granted extra operating freedoms, including removing the need to get approval from Ofcom prior to publishing guidance.
The 2011-12 review also focuses on the growth of regulated VOD services, up from 154 in March 2011 to 184 in March 2012. Additionally, it highlights a tenfold rise in the number of complaints to ATVOD about VOD services as the body becomes better known. In the 2011-12 period it averaged over 50 per month. The report states with more VOD and Internet services becoming increasingly available on web-connected TVs, regulatory protection needs to be in tune with the needs of viewers, who may be exposed to a broad spectrum of material, both regulated and unregulated. Consultation will continue to be important to ATVOD, with its Industry Forum – now in its second year – helping to set a concessionary rate programme for non-commercial and small-scale providers, in a robust yet equitable fee structure which covers the likes of the BBC and Channel 4 as well as minor players in the adult VOD field. Non-UK-based VOD providers remain unregulated in Britain and Northern Ireland.
ATVOD’s CEO Pete Johnson said: “We have made good progress in ensuring that UK operators of regulated VOD services comply with rules designed to protect children from harmful content, but we are not complacent and will continue to monitor relevant services and act as required.”
Johnson concluded: “Our recent enforcement activity has sent a clear message that UK providers of hardcore pornography on demand must take effective steps to ensure that such material is not accessible to under-18s. Asking visitors to a website to click an ‘I am 18’ button or enter a date of birth or use a debit card is not sufficient – if they are going to offer explicit sex material they must know that their customers are 18, just as they would in the ‘offline’ world.”
ATVOD chair Ruth Evans added: “ATVOD has developed and matured as a regulator over its first two years and we warmly welcome Ofcom’s decision to reflect this not just by confirming that the Designation will run until at least 2020 but also by giving ATVOD greater autonomy and independence.”
On Ofcom’s confirmation of ATVOD’s ongoing role, Kerry Kent – chair of the VOD Industry Forum – commented: “In the time since the Industry Forum came into being a lot of progress has been made towards the development of the co-regulatory relationship. We will continue to work in partnership with ATVOD to deliver regulation that works for consumers and industry.”
ATVOD’s 2012 Annual Report can be found at http://atvod.co.uk/uploads/files/Annual_Report_2012.pdf and the full statement of Ofcom’s Designation Review is at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/on-demand/statement/statement.pdf