No rest for weary on EU horizon

Mobile b'casting, pubcaster funding on busy 2008 agenda

After an exhausting two years pushing through broadcasting reforms, one might expect the European Union to take a break from new initiatives in movies and media.

But the policymaking momentum is not about to stop in 2008, as the EU tackles other issues close to Hollywood's heart — from download rules and mobile broadcasting to copyright law and state aid to pubcasters.

Most of the initiatives will emerge from one corner: EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. The former Luxembourg television journalist has emerged as one of the stars of the current commission, developing strong alliances with key industries and governments but not shirking from head-on attacks against big businesses.

Last November, she unveiled plans that aim to deliver better and cheaper communication services for Europe's 500 million consumers, whether they use mobile phones, fast broadband Internet connections or cable TV.

This year, Reding will actually have to sell the proposals to skeptical governments — while ignoring protests from former state-owned telecom giants — as she attempts to overhaul broadband delivery and reallocate radio spectrum to broadcasters.

At the same time, Reding will try to persuade the content industry to work with telecom giants and Internet service providers to develop an online market for music, films and games.

Reding — who will unveil formal proposals in mid-2008 — argues that the market players must resolve intellectual property concerns if they are to make the most of the online content sector.

"We see barriers regarding rights and business models. Media companies have not yet fully adapted their business models to technologies that cross both national borders and sectors," she said last month. "This calls for changes in the way content rights are traded and exploited."

This will be related to the ongoing work of EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who is reviewing the EU's 2001 Copyright Directive, which critics say already is out of date. The law allows companies selling digital content to defend their products with copy-protection technology and makes it illegal for anyone to circumvent such systems, but there are calls for new provisions to take new copying techniques into account.

Reding is involved in two other related projects that will affect the media sector. The first is an initiative to ensure that the Internet is not polluted with illegal content or political hate messages. The program will be complemented by a policy proposal aimed at protecting children.

The other project concerns "media literacy" in the digital age. This will look at how to improve Europeans' ability to access, analyze and evaluate the barrage of media they are now being confronted with across a variety of mediums.

Reding's Dutch colleague, EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, also had a busy 2007, winning a long-running battle against Microsoft and ruling on the (second) bid by Sony and BMG to merge their music units. In 2008, she will oversee key antitrust and cartel investigations, from tax breaks to broadcasters. On top of her competition duties, Kroes will conduct a review of rules for state funding of public-service broadcasting.

This year will also be a crucial one for mobile broadcasting in Europe. Two major sports events — the European soccer championships and the Beijing Olympic Games — have the power to transform the market, and EU ministers will hope their cautious backing of Nokia's DVB-H broadcasting system succeeds in creating the momentum for acceptance of the technology.