There are rapidly growing concerns worldwide about the impact of content aggregation and distribution through digital platforms on traditional media industries and society in general. These have given rise to policy and regulation across the social pillar, including issues of privacy, moderation, and cyberbullying; the public interest/infosphere pillar, with issues such as fake news, the democratic deficit, and the crisis in journalism; and the competition pillar, involving issues based on platform dominance in advertising markets. The cultural pillar, involving the impact of SVODs on the ability of content regulation to support local production capacity, is often bracketed out of these debates. We argue this divide is increasingly untenable due to the convergent complexities of contemporary media and communications policy and regulation. We pursue this argument by offering three issues that bring policy and regulation together across the platform-SVOD divide: digital and global players have been beyond the reach of established broadcasting regulation; the nature of the Silicon Valley playbook for disrupting media markets; and platforms and SVODs now need not only to be aggregators but also contributors to local cultures. We draw on three examples: the European Union, Canada and Australia.
- Platform-SVOD divide
- Social pillar
- Infosphere pillar
- Competition pillar
- Cultural pillar
- Media policy
There are rapidly growing concerns worldwide about the impact of content aggregation and distribution through digital platforms on traditional media industries and society in general. These have given rise to policy and regulatory debates and development across the social pillar, including issues of privacy, moderation, and cyberbullying; the public interest/infosphere pillar, with issues such as fake news, the democratic deficit, and the crisis in journalism; and the competition pillar, involving issues based particularly on Google and Facebook’s dominance in advertising markets. The cultural pillar, which goes to issues such as the impact of SVODs (subscription video-on-demand multi-territory streaming services) such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ on the ability of content regulation to support and profile country- and region-specific talent and production capacity, are often bracketed out of these debates and conducted in separate policy and research circles. We set out to show that this separation, or divide, is increasingly untenable due to the convergent complexities of contemporary media and communications policy and regulation.
Mindful of the principle of Occam’s razor—that the simpler option is usually the better—it might seem quixotic to insist that policy research, and indeed policymakers, should make things more complex by conjoining issues related to platforms and SVODs rather than separating them. There are, of course, good reasons to separate platforms from SVODs, particularly if research is focusing on the United States (US). US regulators and legislators don’t concern themselves with US streamers’ potential global cultural hegemony, while the competition pillar has recently come to prominence in the US, with a federal antitrust suit brought against Google by the US Justice Department in October 2020 (Department of Justice 2020) which may well be taken further by the Biden administration (Bartz and Bose 2021).
But the fact is that in policy development and regulatory action in the European Union (EU), and in major countries of the EU (Germany and France), most of the four pillars have been addressed across the platform-SVOD divide. In Canada, a wide-ranging review of both broadcasting and telecommunications legislative frameworks has led to a bill currently before Parliament which programmatically overwrites the platform-SVOD divide. And in Australia—rarely a global policy leader –there has been a very strong move on the competition and infosphere pillars as applied to central platforms Google and Facebook. In that country, while SVOD regulatory initiatives are being pursued separately, platforms and SVODs have been strongly linked by the government in its strategic political communication about its initiatives.
We make in-principle arguments for the importance of seeking to grasp the dynamics of state action across the platform-SVOD divide given the tendency on the part of specialists in one or more of media industry studies, social media studies, competition law, journalism, and cultural or communications policy to focus too narrowly on their single fields. There is a growing scholarship exploring aspects of these wicked policy conundrums (on platformization of cultural production, Nieborg and Poell 2018; on content moderation, Gillespie 2018; on platforms as media companies, Napoli and Caplan 2017). There is as yet little policy-focused research that encompasses all these pressure points, with most work focused on one or a number, but not all.
Also, the argument is important to counter the standard defences of the platforms that they operate in different markets and therefore should not be investigated holistically. But the argument has really been made for us recently by the dramatic moves policy actors have made, which we seek to outline here. One clear example illustrates the challenge. For its Digital Platforms Inquiry, Rod Sims, Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)—well outside its remit for a competition regulator—declared unambiguously that the crisis of news and journalism due to the market dominant behaviour of Google and Facebook was not a case of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” (and therefore merely subject to competition policy) because “journalism is a public good that benefits broader society” (and therefore goes to normative matters of a healthy democracy) (quoted in McDuling 2019).
This chapter suggests some underlying reasons why the platform-SVOD divide is being breached in state actor policy and regulation and then outlines contemporary, unfolding developments in the three key jurisdictions of the European Union, Canada, and Australia.
Digital and Global Players Beyond the Reach of Established Broadcasting Regulation
A common thread across several Western democratic jurisdictions from the 1990s is to have excluded early-stage digital technologies and services from regulation based on their at-the-time obvious differences from broadcasting and the desire not to impede their prospects of innovation. Political economist Dwayne Winseck (2019) calls this “a holdover from the 1990s era of Internet exceptionalism and neoliberal deregulation”. Now, 20 and more years later, that it is equally obvious that Google, Facebook, and Netflix have significant impact on major broadcasting and infosphere markets globally, the capacity of first digital, and more recently global, actors to remain exempt from national legislative and regulatory frameworks poses critical multi-jurisdictional challenges for governments and regulators.
Adding to the complexity of strategies for changing this is that most of the intended targets are foreign actors and thus may come under such multilateral trade agreements as the 2005 Australian United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). The AUSFTA put limits on certain cultural policy levers within Australia, requiring bilateral consultation between the two nations to amend such limits. The provenance of the cultural exemption in the 2018 United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement may also be considered of relevance.
The Silicon Valley Playbook: The Strong, Black Box
The Silicon Valley playbook is to disrupt highly regulated markets with a consumer-focused and -friendly offer based on world-class software and powerful recommendation algorithms while relying on already established and often publicly-developed and -provided broadband and telecommunications infrastructure.
What unites a set of concerns about Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix is the very high degree of information asymmetry such Silicon Valley entities insist on in their business operations. They typically release very little consumption data to their partner content producers. This has major implications for fair and transparent terms of trade between global behemoths and regulated entities and small businesses in national jurisdictions.
This has flow-on implications for lack of partner knowledge about the efficacy of algorithmic advertising in advertising markets dominated by Google and Facebook and the degree to which it can be managed to advantage platforms and their ‘home’ products and services, rather than third parties and partners. This has led policy makers to call for new market regulatory authorities with the power to investigate and demand information on algorithmic control over news and advertising. The prospects for fair deal making and reasonably transparent terms of trade between major global commissioners and licensers of professional entertainment content such as Netflix and Amazon Prime and national production interests is also a case in point.
This is combined with the extremely innovative and disruptive degree to which the Silicon Valley playbook challenges traditional business models and threatens the viability of news media and traditional screen entertainment at the same time. The sheer scale of the dominance of Google and Facebook in advertising markets can motivate competition watchdogs and possibly overcome even the decades-long reluctance in the US to intervene on market dominance (antitrust) grounds. But it more than this. As we have noted, the crisis of news and journalism due to the market dominant behaviour of Google and Facebook is not simply a case of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” because “journalism is a public good that benefits broader society”.
Aggregators Versus Contributors
Platforms and SVODs are more than aggregators of content they do not originate, but they are less than adequate contributors to sustainable local and national news content and locally-derived entertainment programming in national jurisdictions. There needs to be greater balance between profiting from news and entertainment content on the one hand and contributing to its sustainability on the other.
Platforms and SVODs have histories of funding ad hoc initiatives (in news and journalism, and in commissioning local product) especially when under public and state pressure. While pressure is being brought to bear on platforms (the ‘social license to operate’ through to regulation and legislation), governments can act to ameliorate and support (for example, through “innovation” funds that may work closely with Google and Facebook on sustainable business approaches, news subscriptions made tax deductible for all consumers, or investment in journalism attracting tax offsets). This suite of public subsidies and private/public partnerships around public interest/infosphere issues is entirely of a piece with state action in the cultural pillar to support national content and talent on SVODs.
We now turn to our three jurisdictional cases which illustrate in more detail the principles for and outworking of actual regulatory and legislative initiatives which have looked to address issues across the platform-SVOD policy divide.
European Union: Supranational Strategic Regulation
It might seem ironic that the European Union, the historical imperative for which was, and remains, the elimination of national regulatory borders in the interests of the creation of a single supranational market, should also become the world leader in initiating platform and SVOD regulation. This is in part because the creation of a single European market is designed to enable competition with US market leadership through the emergence of Euro industrial ‘champions’ and has lent weight to the EU policy apparatus leading the world in closely monitoring all four pillars—social, infosphere, competition, and cultural. The broad record of EU action over time is well documented (Pauwels and Donders 2011). Our discussion focuses on the unfolding action under cultural, social and infosphere pillars.
In the EU, the 2018 Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) provides baseline cultural regulation such as the requirement that video on-demand services ensure that at least 30% of their catalogue is European, as well as various avenues for member states to build further regulations for local content on SVOD services, and social regulation protecting children and enforcing content restrictions on Video Sharing Platforms(VSPs), like YouTube, perhaps even Facebook. The EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, with its June 2021 implementation deadline, extends the EU’s media reform package to the infosphere. The directive supports the so-called ‘link tax’ on services like Google, which France has already implemented. Australia has enacted a similar ‘link tax’ regime, and Canada is on a similar path.
In the AVMSD, the EU has approached the cultural pillar with a view to considering all streamed entertainment under an umbrella media policy setting which expands the cultural concerns beyond broadcast TV and cinema and across SVODs and digital platforms. Article 13 (1) of the AVMSD requires member states to ensure that ‘on-demand audiovisual media services’ maintain a content catalogue of at least 30% European content. Article 28’s provisions for VSPs expand the scope of ‘audiovisual providers’ to include services that prominently share videos: “the legislation will apply to broadcasters, but also to video-on-demand and video-sharing platforms, such as Netflix, YouTube or Facebook, as well as to live streaming on video-sharing platforms” (European Parliament 2018). There is a degree of path-dependent policymaking here that builds on the history of audiovisual regulation from the EU as a whole and from individual member states (see Kostovska et al. 2020). However, the scope of AVMSD has seen substantial regulatory enlargement across the SVOD-platform divide as the EU responds to these disruptive processes. As of mid-2021, 15 member states have implemented the AVMSD into their national laws, despite the implementation deadline passing in September 2020 (European Audiovisual Observatory 2021). Portugal and Hungary are among member states that have imposed additional national and language subquotas beyond the baseline provisions of the AVMSD.
For the social pillar, the EU intends to give audiences uniform protections from inappropriate content, particularly for children. Article 28b of the AVMSD deals with the category of audiovisual services termed by the EU as VSPs. Article 28b (1), a, b, and c lay out that member states will need to regulate VSPs to protect children from inappropriate content, to protect all from hate speech or the inciting of violence through content on VSPs, and to make VSPs responsible for ensuring no illegal content, like child pornography, is disseminated through their services.
For the infosphere pillar, France’s ‘link tax’ gives publishers rights to be compensated when aggregators and platforms, such as Facebook and Google, republish ‘article snippets’. This draws on article 15 (sometimes referred to as Article 11/15) of the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. France’s regulation drew the ire of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) who threatened tariffs (the Trump Administration’s USTR had also threatened action on the similar Australian plan). Google initially responded with threats to cease republishing French news content. In early 2021, France and Google agreed on a path forward for this legislation, with major elements including the ability for companies to negotiate individually for the value of their snippets and a ‘News Showcase’ section established on Google which publishers could opt into for agreed licensing arrangements (Lomas 2021).
This issue in the infosphere pillar (called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code in Australia) is one that does not explicitly link to SVOD regulation and is one of the least embedded in even the EU jurisdiction (it is being pushed most strongly by France) and is being fought vehemently by Google and Facebook. The fact that it is new to the world and is being opposed stridently by the platforms affected means that each of the three jurisdictions has adopted different strategies for bringing the issue forward. Whereas France is in the middle of the battle, Canada has delayed codifying the news issues in its bill and the form of the proposed legislation is yet to be seen—signifying the difficulty of the issue and the potential stakes involved in unsettling passage of the current bill. The undercard of Australia’s very aggressive approach to the infosphere and competition pillars is a softly softly approach to the cultural pillar with SVODs.
Canada: A ‘Big Bang’, Omnibus Approach
In Canada, a root and branch review into broadcasting legislation by the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review (BTLR) panel published a report, Canada’s Communications Future: Time to Act, in January 2020. Many of the report’s recommendations have been adopted into the major broadcasting amendment bill C-10 (which subsequently became C-11), which, as of mid-2021, is under debate in the Canadian parliament. This report has the virtue for our purposes of having had to build from first principles the rationale for broadcasting and telecommunications reform in the contemporary digital, globalized period. This contrasts with European Union actions which, having already developed extensive regulatory architecture in relation to the major US platforms, is extending and adapting rather than starting afresh, and the staged approach in Australia. Canada’s is a ‘big bang’, omnibus approach.
The report proposed to radically cut through decades of policy distinctions and exclusions in asserting that a “new model would bring all who provide media content services to Canadians—whether online or through conventional means, whether foreign or domestic, whether or not they have a place of business in Canada—within the scope of the Broadcasting Act (1991) and under the jurisdiction of the federal regulatory agency, the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)” (BTLR 2020, p. 11). While maintaining flexibility as to the level of contribution, the report included every entity in an omnibus undertaking, noting in recommendation 60 that: “We recommend that all media content undertakings that benefit from the Canadian media communications sector contribute to it in an equitable manner. Undertakings that carry out like activities should have like obligations, regardless of where they are located” (BTLR 2020, p. 32). This included curation (Prime Video, Netflix, Spotify as well as Canadian entities); aggregation (cable companies, MSN News, Google News, Apple News); and sharing (YouTube, Facebook).
This is a dramatic change to the current circumstances, which see a heavily regulated broadcasting landscape and largely unregulated curation, aggregation and sharing sectors. The broadcast television landscape in Canada is subject to a high degree of cultural regulation, with regulations supporting Canadian content (“CanCon”) including both transmission and expenditure requirements. Cable, satellite, and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) are required to contribute 5% of revenues to the creation of Canadian content, either through contributions to independently administered production funds, the Canadian Media Fund (CMF), or through expenditure on content. Licensed broadcasters are required to devote a minimum of 30% of revenues to the production of Canadian content. A minimum percentage of this money is distributed to the CMF, which the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) draws upon for program funding. SVODs (curated services) are unregulated in this manner, but in 2017 the Canadian government and Netflix agreed to a CAD $500 million production fund, with stipulations for a local Netflix production office, and discussions on Bill C-10 are ongoing.
Canada’s Communications Future positioned SVODs like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video as curation services, which would be targeted with Canadian content revenue requirements, an evolution of existing CanCon regulations that apply to broadcast television. The report was clear that in its model “specific requirements would vary” in terms of the regulatory mechanism to support Canadian content, but that SVODs like Netflix in the ‘curation’ category through to platforms like Facebook in the ‘sharing’ category would all be subject to cultural regulation, with financial contributions “based on a simple calculation of the percentage of Canadian-derived revenues” (BTLR 2020, p. 12). Across various proposed regulatory mechanisms, the overriding rationale in the report was clear—Canadian content must be supported by SVODs and platforms alike. Indeed, this sees the expansion of the cultural pillar of regulation, often focused mostly on SVODs like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video rather than social media platforms like Facebook and Reddit and carries the cultural pillar even wider across the SVOD-platform divide.
In justifying this broad-scale regulatory approach, Canada’s Communications Future lays out further commonalities new digital services in Canada share with legacy providers—they gain impressive financial benefit from Canadian market access. In 2017, Netflix’s subscription revenues were estimated at CAD $1.6 billion, with Facebook’s advertising revenues estimated at the same number for 2016 (BTLR 2020, p. 123). This needs to be considered in the light of the estimation that, if the full suite of changes to the Broadcasting Act (1991) were to be enacted, as much as CAD $830 million a year toward Canadian content by 2023 may be forthcoming from online streaming services (Curry and Dickson 2020). Within this broader media communications sector, which has been financially fruitful for foreign companies, the report states that “this new declaration should be a strong affirmation of the fundamental link between the media communications sector and the expression of Canadian cultural sovereignty and democracy” (BTLR 2020, p. 124). This position makes Canada a leading nation for media regulation across the platform-SVOD divide and asserts a principle that a strong and unified case for all audiovisual services, whether foreign-owned or domestic, should contribute to local cultural output in exchange for market access.
Bill C-11, is a proposed amendment to Canada’s Broadcasting Act (1991), representing many of the changes called for by Canada’s Communications Future. The bill extends Canadian content requirements currently on legacy providers to new media providers, like SVODs. Bill C-11 would allow the CRTC to set revenue contribution requirements for SVODs, and apply other similar policies to video sharing sites, music streaming, and other like services (Canadian Heritage 2020). The government’s political communication is feisty about the cultural as well as infosphere pillars; the Throne Speech declared:
Web giants are taking Canadians’ money while imposing their own priorities. Things must change, and will change. The Government will act to ensure their revenue is shared more fairly with our creators and media, and will also require them to contribute to the creation, production, and distribution of our stories, on screen, in lyrics, in music, and in writing. (Canadian Government 2020, p. 15)
While Bill C-11 delivers dramatically on the cultural pillar, the main component of the omnibus report Canada’s Communications Future that is not included in Bill C-11 concerns the infosphere and competition pillars. A separate bill is forthcoming that relates to news sites and aggregators, which the Communications Minister claims will be ‘conceptually’ similar to the approaches attempted in Australia and France. Critics have called those plans a ‘link tax’, and, as we have seen, they have been strongly opposed by Google and Facebook. This decoupling, at least in timing and sequence, of the cultural pillar from the infosphere and competition pillars registers the level of difficulty establishing a mandatory rather than voluntary code to require Google and Facebook to recompense news media for their content being aggregated on these dominant platforms. News Media Canada, representing over 300 Canadian newspapers, has strongly lobbied the government to adopt the Australian approach, which we now turn to.
Australia: Part Big Bang, Part Softly Softly
Australia has pursued two very different approaches to dealing with the infosphere and competition pillars (in relation to platforms) and the cultural pillar (in relation to SVODs). The initiatives have been advanced in separate portfolios. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a regulatory agency that sits within the Treasury portfolio, has led on the infosphere and competition pillars, while the communications department and agencies within that portfolio have focused on the cultural pillar. But the initiatives have been run in parallel and the softly softly policy development in the cultural pillar has been strategically linked to the big bang proposals in the infosphere and competition pillars.
In 2017, the government directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to conduct an inquiry into digital platforms. The Digital Platforms Inquiry released its final report in mid-2019 with major findings in the infosphere pillar on a power and revenue imbalance between digital platforms and legacy news providers. The government initially proposed a voluntary approach to dealing with the proposed dollar value in the news content being captured by Google and Facebook’s linking to and snippets of that content. That ratcheted up to a proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code (NMBC), which was legislated in March 2021. It establishes a “mandatory code of conduct” to support Australian established news providers by “addressing bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and Australian news businesses” (Frydenberg 2020, p. 7). The Code of Conduct requires the dominant internet platforms to negotiate with all news organizations above a certain revenue threshold for the right to host links to their content and would implement ‘compulsory arbitration’ if the parties could not agree to a negotiated valuation. Google’s and Facebook’s initial responses followed the playbook in France, with the platforms leveraging their market dominance and threatening the removal of their services—the provision of news in the case of Facebook and the search engine entirely in the case of Google. However, both ultimately agreed to conduct commercial negotiations with the main news businesses.
The strategic linkage across the platform-SVOD divide is clear when we consider that the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry report is a 600+ page report setting an international gold standard of what assertive national jurisdictions could or should do when faced with the major social (including privacy), competition and public interest issues which particularly Google and Facebook pose for society and the traditional media. There is nothing explicit in the report on SVODs, and only three mentions of Netflix—none of them substantive. But it has been used not only to enact mandatory terms of trade between news media and Google and Facebook, but as a trigger for ramping up the significance of the cultural issue of sustainability of Australian and children’s content on screen media using the report’s recommendation for a ‘harmonised framework’ for media reform—even though this recommendation (Rec 6; ACCC 2019, p. 15) contains nothing directly to do with SVOD services.
This would suggest that the government’s strategy is to transfer the high level of now-near global advocacy for reining in the influence of the two major platforms in the social, competition and public interest fields and apply it to the cultural field to regulate SVOD services. ‘Regulated free-to-air broadcasters are competing with unregulated digital platforms and video streaming services. It has been evident for some time—and the COVID-19 crisis has made it even more obvious—that this is not sustainable. These arrangements threaten the sustainability of television broadcasters—and in turn the sustainability of the film and television content production sector,’ as Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, responsible for the cultural pillar, noted (Fletcher as cited by Karp 2020).
Australia has taken a softly softly, or ‘soft law’, approach to the cultural pillar, although its positioning and politics have drawn on the big bang circumstances that have led to the proposed mandatory NMBC. Soft law, according to Terry Flew, ‘recognises the difficulties of simply [applying] existing laws and regulations designed for publishers or broadcasters to Google or Facebook, as they do not identify with these traditional media industry models. It would enable digital platform companies to have a role in shaping the regulatory requirements they are subject to. It is also conceivable in principle that provisions could be developed by relevant government agencies working with the relevant digital platform industry stakeholders’ (2018, p. 18).
The matter of regulating SVOD services is vexed. Such services were established in various countries, including Australia, not as television services but as telecommunications services. They were, and are, therefore not subject to any of the content regulations that apply to commercial media. There is an additional background complexity to the situation in Australia: the 2005 Australia United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). While most expert opinion agrees that there is some scope within the AUSFTA for contemplating the application of Australian content requirements on what were called at the time ‘interactive audio and/or video services’ (AUSFTA, Annex-II 2005, p. 6), the political stakes of inviting a US trade backlash would be high.
After years of relative inaction on the increasing gap between a heavily regulated broadcasting sector and an unregulated SVOD and platform sector, government agencies Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and Screen Australia issued an options paper, Supporting Australian Stories on Our Screens—Options Paper, in April 2020. The Government committed to “a staged process to reform media regulation towards… a platform-neutral regulatory framework covering both online and offline delivery of media content to Australian consumers” and “identified Australian content obligations as one of the first issues it would focus on” (ACMA and Screen Australia 2020, p. 5). After receiving 230+ submissions on the broad set of options laid out, most of which were looking for state action to bring the SVODs into the regulatory net, the government further relaxed rules on commercial broadcasters for Australian and children’s while increasing funding for the state agencies which financially support such content.
Moving remarkably quickly when compared to years of inquiries but policy stasis, the communications department (DITRDC) then issued in November 2020 a Green Paper titled New rules for a new media landscape—modernising television regulation in Australia. In a detailed laying-out of soft law propositions, it seeks to deal with each of the major stakeholders in a coordinated way. It offers commercial broadcasters a one-time, irrevocable choice to operate under a new commercial television broadcasting licence, with a reduced regulatory burden, provided they agree to move at a future point to using substantially less radiofrequency spectrum. This will promote the public interest derived from spectrum by encouraging multiplex sharing by broadcasters. The proceeds raised through the reform process will fund public policy initiatives that deliver value for the Australian public and support the media sector. It also proposes to formalise the role of national public broadcasters (the ABC and SBS) as key providers of Australian content, addressing a significant anomaly that the commercial broadcasters are regulated specifically to provide Australian content threatened by market forces (drama, children’s, and documentaries) but the majority-publicly funded entities are not.
Successful implementation of this policy suite would introduce an investment obligation in Australian local audiovisual content for subscription and advertising video-on-demand services. After moving through a series of eligibility criteria, such as over one million subscribers in Australia and a revenue threshold of $100 million per annum in Australia, the Government opens the floor to debate on the appropriate level of local content investment, highlighting “as a guide to a potentially appropriate level,” that the Government has recently cut the local content obligation for pay-TV to 5% from 10% (DITRDC 2020, p. 32). The investment would be monitored and, if insufficient over a two-year period, a mandatory investment obligation would be introduced.
The Green Paper starts with the fundamental disruptive drivers that necessitate a focus on both platforms and SVODs. “The business model for free-to-air television in Australia is increasingly challenged. The trend is clear over the last decade. Viewer numbers are down sharply; in turn so is advertising revenue. This is mainly due to intense competition from large, usually overseas-based, internet services. These include social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube as well as Subscription Video-on-Demand (SVOD) services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+” (DITRDC 2020, p. 4). It is noteworthy that this is regardless of whether platforms and SVODs operate in different consumer markets and operate different business models (advertising, or subscription). No matter the business model or content form, the impact is clear.
Linking back to the originating document of this thrust of Australian media policy reform, the Green Paper notes that “as the ACCC pointed out, digital platforms like Facebook and Google and the SVOD services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ do not face the regulation which is imposed on free-to-air television. Yet they are competing for the same eyeballs and, in many cases, the same pool of revenue” (DITRDC 2020, p. 4). Again, whatever differences in service provision, the revenue question is based upon attention from consumers, and both SVODs and platforms compete for the same limited pool of attention. Policy cannot avoid dealing with the collapse of differences between traditional broadcasting entertainment and news media, whether press or broadcasting, with a converged advertising market shared by all parties increasingly captured by the likes of Facebook and Google.
The positioning of the policy challenge as deriving from “large, overseas-based, internet services” (DITRDC 2020, p. 4) echoes the issues raised in Canada’s Communications Future and the EU’s suite of regulatory instruments, most recently the AVMSD. The foreign status is pertinent, not because of xenophobia or a desire to roll back commitment to foreign investment per se but because these foreign entities have so impacted the ability of national markets to operate in the national public interest.
The Green Paper lays out two new funding sources for endangered content. The rationale for them crosses the platform-SVOD divide. The Create Australia Screen Trust (CAST) and Public Interest News Gathering Trust (PING) would respectively fund Australian drama content and Australian public interest news content (DITRDC 2020, pp. 27–28). Both CAST and PING would receive funding from the one-off spectrum sale, with PING already partially funded. The funding of these trusts demonstrates a recognition that issues of local content regulation bridge the platform and SVOD divides and cannot be kept as solely the remit of cultural audiovisual services.
What is the value of looking at state actor initiatives across the platform-SVOD divide? This chapter compares how state actors in major Western democracies are approaching the converging tech and culture regulatory issues surrounding audio and audiovisual services. Our case study analysis of unfolding regulatory initiatives in the EU, Canada, and Australia has demonstrated that a common strand of purpose is being applied by policy actors to work within this field. Indeed, there may be policy coordination and transfer, although that is (intentionally) hard to determine. Overarching rationales, such as the Australian positioning of the policy challenge as arising from “large, usually overseas-based, internet services” and the Canadian proposition that “that all media content undertakings that benefit from the Canadian media communications sector contribute to it in an equitable manner” programmatically cross the SVOD and platform divide. In the EU, we see these broader rationales leading to holistic policy development, like that embodied by the AVMSD. Across the platform-SVOD divide, there are four major pillars of interacting policymaking—the social, infosphere, competition, and cultural. Even when state actors work on parallel tracks to address matters involving these pillars, they use the momentum created around one or more pillars to activate others. Well-established silos that have separated policy issues arising in these four pillars are collapsing under the weight of what has come to be known as the ‘platform society’ (van Dijck et al. 2018).
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Cunningham, S., Eklund, O. (2022). State Actor Policy and Regulation Across the Platform-SVOD Divide. In: Flew, T., Martin, F.R. (eds) Digital Platform Regulation. Palgrave Global Media Policy and Business. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-95220-4_10
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