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Audiovisual creativity and the European digital decade.

"Check against delivery"

Lille, 24 March 2022

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here with you today to talk about the impact of the digital transformation on the audio-visual sector. About the opportunities that it has brought with it, but also its challenges.

It has never been so easy to get content to people. For those of us who grew up with only a few TV channels to choose from, the content currently on offer is truly astonishing. At the same time, your sector has had to totally reinvent itself in a fast-changing competitive landscape.

This is why I will talk about our efforts to strengthen the creative industry in Europe – which is an important part of our cultural identity. And I will talk about our regulatory efforts to rewrite the rules of the internet – with the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act.

In a sector like yours, there is nothing worse than a spoiler. But I can already reveal that all of our digital policies have one thing in common: They put people at the centre of the digital transformation. So that every person, every consumer, every entrepreneur, has a fair chance of making the most of the opportunities that the digital world has on offer.

In the past decade, however, we have seen how a limited number of privately-owned companies have been able to define the rules of the internet. They decide whose content, whose products, whose services are offered to whom, and on what terms.

The success of these companies is mainly due to the enormous amount of personal data they collect.

Just a few years ago, many people said that markets will sort out these problems by themselves.

Well, in today's digital economy, being clever and innovative alone will not help you overcome these problems. So, if we want to obtain greater fairness and equal opportunities for everyone, we need to redefine the rules of the internet in such a way that it serves the public interest. This can only be done by laws made by democratically legitimised institutions.

Obviously, the way in which people want to consume content has changed as well. Recent research shows that content available on streaming services alone would entertain us for 85 years, if we spent 3 hours a day in front of the screen.

But, of course, streaming is only part of the menu. We can use the same device to easily switch from streaming TV series or films to other types of content, like social media content, online news, ebooks, video games, or user-generated videos. And many people still value the more traditional media such as public or commercial broadcasts.

One would think that this hyper abundance of content, literally at our fingertips, would mean a golden age of media pluralism, independence and cultural diversity. But, once again, we had to realise that market powers, left on their own, do not always result in societally beneficial outcomes.

The way in which content is offered to consumers is determined by privately-run algorithms. These algorithms are often designed in a way that maximises attention and advertising revenues, rather than the quality and diversity of content.

Given the lack of transparency of these processes, it is hard to assess whether such revenues are fairly shared between the creators of content and the digital channels that make the content available to the public. The negotiations on the Copyright Directive have shown how difficult it is to reach agreement on such issues.

But many digital platforms are not just intermediaries that offer third-party content to consumers. They often produce content themselves and are in direct competition with those who are dependent on their platforms to reach younger audiences in particular.

We have analysed and addressed these challenges in many ways. Building on our work on the Copyright Directive and Audio-Visual Media Services Directive in the last mandate, we have refocused our digital policy on objectives such as fairness, level-playing field, transparency and pluralism.

In our declaration on European digital rights and principles, we state that “everyone should have access to a trustworthy, diverse and multilingual online environment”. Because access to diverse content contributes to a pluralistic public debate.

Of course, principles like this one need to be translated into specific actions. And this is exactly what we have done.

Most importantly, we have proposed a radical reform of the digital space through the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act. Both proposals are ambitious, and they are first of their kind on a global scale. They will very soon be endorsed by the co-legislators, and produce changes on the ground starting from next year already.

Also for the media sector, this new legal framework will create a fairer and more predictable online environment for the supply and consumption of media services on large digital platforms.

The Digital Markets Act addresses the business practices of those large digital platforms that have emerged as gatekeepers. It focuses on so-called “core platform services” such as online intermediation services, search engines, social networks, or video-sharing platforms. These services are obviously of great relevance to media organisations that try to reach and interact with potential audiences. For example, if you are promoting a new TV series.

TV producers and distributors will have access to more data on how users are engaging with their content on social media, including on trailers or promotional clips. You will also obtain much more reliable information on the impact of your advertising activities on gatekeeper platforms.

The Digital Markets Act will also ensure that platforms cannot unduly leverage their gatekeeping position from one service to another. Take, for example, a platform that is a gatekeeper for a core “marketplace” service. If this platform starts offering a streaming service as an additional ancillary service, it will not be allowed to combine the data generated on its marketplace with its new streaming service.

This platform will also be prevented from prioritising its own streaming service over competiting streaming services – for example in search results. 

If despite all safeguards, we see the risk of any gatekeeping position emerging in other services – such as streaming – the Digital Markets Act allows us to add new services after conducting a market investigation.

And then we have the Digital Services Act, which is also in its final stages of negotiation. Currently, platforms are setting the rules of content moderation, which they enforce without sufficient safeguards and transparency. The Digital Services Act will introduce clear due-diligence obligations when it comes to illegal content.

Our guiding rule is simple: what is illegal offline is also illegal online, and therefore needs to be addressed effectively. But the content moderation rules of platforms also need to have strong safeguards to protect the freedom of expression.

We are confident that our proposal has achieved this delicate balance. A media organisation will find it much easier to get content removed if its copyright has been violated. At the same time, if a platform wrongfully restricts access to legitimate media content, you will benefit from much greater transparency and redress possibilities.

Take a journalist, whose content has been removed by a platform. That journalist will have to be told why that happened, and be given a chance to complain, easily and free of charge. If the removal was unjustified, the platform will be obliged to reinstate the content. Of course, the final decision will always remain with the courts. Platforms have to moderate content responsibly, but they do not get to decide what is legal or illegal in the EU.

For very large online platforms, which provide “public spaces” for the exchange of information, the Digital Services Act imposes even wider obligations. They will be required to carry out regular assessments of the systemic risks stemming from their services to freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism. They will also need to assess the risks of the manipulation of their service in disinformation campaigns.

If such systemic risks are identified, very large online platforms will have to implement mitigation measures. These obligations will be monitored by the competent authorities and subject to unprecedented public scrutiny through broadly available reports, external audits and access to data for vetted researchers.

Last but certainly not least, the Digital Services Act will oblige platforms to inform users on their algorithmic recommender systems. Users should be able to understand why certain content is prioritised for them and should be able to change the parameters for prioritisation. This will ensure a more level-playing field for producers and distributors of audiovisual content when they promote their films or series online.

We are of course aware that the creative sector is not only calling for a level playing field with digital platforms. You also ask for support in the digital transformation of your sector, and for more further-reaching measures to uphold media pluralism in Europe.

The cultural and creative sectors were hit hard by the pandemic. Several Member States have chosen to include support to audiovisual and the media in their Recovery and Resilience Plans. Also EU programmes cover a wide range of areas relevant to media. These include research and innovation, deployment of digital technology, access to finance as well as regional funds.

Given this diversity of funding sources, we adopted a Media and Audiovisual Action Plan in December 2020 in order to set clear objectives and priorities. The Plan is in fact our roadmap for the recovery and transformation of the media sector.

The EU's programme dedicated to the audiovisual industry is Creative Europe MEDIA, with the objectives of ensuring cultural diversity and a competitive and resilient European audiovisual industry.

With a budget of almost EUR 1.5 billion until 2027, MEDIA provides support across the value chain, including of course content development for TV and online distribution.

In this fast-changing world, we obviously need to continue to systematically monitor market and technological developments. By the end of this year, we will publish a Media Outlook, to explore market trends in audiovisual and news media, and analyse their potential impact on the European media market and business models.

The Media Outlook will provide relevant data notably on the presence, circulation and promotion of works by the Member States, and it will shed light on the EU audiovisual ecosystem after Brexit. It will also analyse the impact of global Video-on-Demand platforms on EU independent production and creative talent.

The war in Ukraine has painfully reminded us of the need to ensure open and democratic societies. A free, diverse, and dynamic media environment is an essential element to achieve this. We will keep defending it with all means at our disposal.

Thank you very much.

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