ATVOD tops agenda at UKAP meet

Posted: July 8, 2013

At June’s UKAP (UK Adult Producers) meeting at The Hercules Pillars in the City of London, ATVOD (Authority for TeleVision On Demand) was a main focus, with many in the industry who attended worried about circulating stories regarding ATVOD’s approach to controlling ‘television-like’ internet services in the UK and how those apply to adult content.

While it’s hard to separate rumour from fact and comment from policy, several key issues were raised at the meeting, from which representatives of ATVOD were specifically barred. ETO was told that TelevisionX/Portland TV’s Chris Ratcliff, who joined the ATVOD board in March 2012 as the representative of the UK adult industry, had requested to attend but had been refused.

Discussion began with talk of JoyBear and Strictly Broadband, both of which have relocated outside the UK following contact with ATVOD. Former SB owner Jerry Barnett was in attendance and spoke about his experience of dealing with ATVOD and OFCOM.

Solicitor Myles Jackman was due to address the meeting about the possibility of getting a Judicial Review (the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review – and possible invalidation – by the judiciary) into the powers granted to ATVOD.

When Jackman was unable to attend, Terry Stephens [pictured left] said on his behalf: “The thing to do with ATVOD – it can be overturned. If anybody in the coming months is prepared to be a JR [Ewing] – prepared to get shot – on this issue, he’d be prepared to defend you. He sounded quite excited by the prospect on the phone.”

David Grey [pictured right] posed the question: “If we’re all able to get together, could we pay someone like Myles Jackman to get that Judicial Review against ATVOD?”

Jerry Barnett stepped forward to say that in order to get a review, there needs to be an individual case to be challenged. He explained that since the representation of the legal act of fisting has now been reclassified as ‘non-obscene’ by the Peacock case, organisations including the BBFC should have adjusted their policies to reflect this and that he had been speaking to Myles Jackman about this too. They hoped to find a performer on a low income who could get Legal Aid to fight a case over their right – or otherwise – to make and sell fisting content. With the BBFC making that difficult, there would be a case for judicial review as well as questions over the suppression of free expression and even human rights.

Payment systems appear to be a way ATVOD is able to identify and potentially target content distributors. With adult sites with video having to insist on a credit card or other age-restricted payment method – not debit cards – in order to comply with ATVOD rules, a limited range of payment providers have been relatively easy to identify. There was some speculation at the UKAP meeting that international transactions, with a UK consumer being equally easy to identify, meant overseas sites could also become a target for UK agencies acting to ‘protect the public’. In the past, the idea of editorial control had been regarded as the point at which a UK producer handed over ‘responsibility’ for their content to an offshore streaming video service to put it beyond ATVOD’s remit, but according to people speaking from their personal experience of dealing with ATVOD, this may have changed. Anecdotal discussion of conversations allegedly held at ATVOD’s offices raised a few eyebrows. Animated GIFs as ‘television-like’ since they contain motion..?

There was also speculation about ATVOD interest in sites such as AdultWork and Clips4Sale, which while not as ‘television-like’ as iPlayer or 4OD, do feature streamed video and under the loose wording of ATVOD’s mandate, might be regarded as legitimate internet services to be expected to comply with the independent co-regulator’s policies, when being accessed from inside the UK.

“Making it up as they go along” was a phrase used several times at the meeting, and the lack of an ATVOD appeals procedure was also raised. Technically it’s OFCOM that levies fines, including hefty ones to Playboy.TV (and Demand Adult), which the regulator hit with a total of £100k in fines in January this year. There was a suggestion this had been issued even as the firm was demonstrating a willingness to comply with ATVOD’s demands and that deadlines given had been unrealistic to complete significant changes to Playboy.TV’s business and websites.

With three ATVOD decisions regarding ODPS (On Demand Programme Services) – YouTube channels for BBC’s Top Gear and BBC Food, as well as video services provided by Channel Flip Media Limited – being overturned by OFCOM in February this year, it’s feared the adult industry does not have the clout of the BBC or YouTube (owned by Google) to fight measures to control pornographic content online. Measures which were called by attendees at the UKAP meeting punitive, disproportionate, anti-UK-business and ultimately ineffectual since free tube sites and content shared by bitTorrent are totally unaffected.

A meeting on September 23rd in London is expected to feature ATVOD boss Pete Johnson, and a number of people present at the UKAP meeting expressed their intention to attend, armed with some serious questions for the regulator’s chief executive.

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