ATVOD has ruled that video content on four newspaper and magazine websites was 'TV-like' and therefore subject to the same law that applies to other video on-demand services online.
The ruling affects The Sun, News of the World, Sunday Times and Elle Magazine and concerns a recently-updated section of the UK Communications Act that incorporates the AVMS Directive.
The Directive provides a European-wide standard on governing audio and visual content that is under the editorial responsibility of a media service provider.
The Directive, which replaced the 1997 TelevisionWithout Frontiers Directive when it was passed by the European Parliament in 2007, does not regulate video content found at private website addresses, or sites such as YouTube.
Content found under website banners such as 'Sun Video' and 'Sunday Times Video Library', replicated 'TV-like' programmes comparable to other video on-demand providers, said ATVOD.
The regulator said that the videos were available to anyone at any time, that the content was editorially controlled and made available to public viewing in the UK.
"The Video Library is presented as a consumer destination in its own right, and the programmes provided within The Video Library service can be viewed, enjoyed and made sense of without reference to the newspaper offering," ATVOD said in its determination against the Sunday Times.
"The programmes themselves are comparable to the form and content of programmes normally included in television programme services, in that they follow the conventions of TV programmes, with edited opening sequences, on-screen captions, music soundtrack and presenters." it said.
The Sunday Times claimed that the Video Library forms part of the re-purposing of their newspaper online, which would take it outwith the remit of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.
Elle magazine owner Hachette Filipacchi has appealed the decision to media regulator Ofcom, with further appeals on behalf of the newspapers likely, according to ATVOD.
ATVOD's decision, if upheld, would mean that the publishers would have to pay £2,900 a year for each on-demand service. ATVOD took over from TV regulator Ofcom in March 2010 in regulating television and video content delivered over the internet. Advertising via these services is still regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority.
“ATVOD has no desire or remit to regulate the press – whether online or offline – but we do have a duty to be even-handed and apply the new statutory regulations in a fair and consistent manner," said ATVOD chair Ruth Evans. "In each case, a catalogue of ‘TV like’ programmes is offered as a discrete service, comparable with many others. There are clear differences between these services and on-line versions of newspapers."
“When print newspapers started giving away DVDs some years ago, they brought themselves within the remit of the Video Recordings Act 1984 and had to comply with the statutory rules that apply to all distributors of DVDs in the UK," said ATVOD chief executive Pete Johnson. "Similarly, online newspapers and magazines that operate video on demand services must expect to comply with the new rules for video on demand services if they meet the relevant statutory criteria."
Thomson said that ATVOD would soon publish rulings relating to other publishers' content.