ATVOD Proposes to License Adult Sites for Age Verification

LONDON ­­ — ATVOD, the U.K. regulator of video-on-demand services, says it wants to further regulate adult entertainment websites.

ATVOD CEO Pete Johnson told the BBC this week that the plan would allow the agency to license sexually explicit sites — but only if they have age-verification checks in place.

With the proposal, processors would be forbidden to handle credit and debit card fees for premium services, such as high-definition content, from U.K. citizens to sites that aren’t registered and licensed by ATVOD.

"We're a very substantial market and to access the money that's flowing from the U.K. would be quite a powerful incentive to introduce restrictions," Johnson told the BBC.

Johnson said the issue over licensing adult sites was so urgent that it was "critical the legislation is enacted during this Parliament" before the next general election.

ATVOD, to back up its demand to change U.K. law, commissioned market research firm Nielsen Netview to install equipment that monitored the online habits of 45,000 users over the course of a month.  

The Nielsen Netview survey indicated that over one month:

  • Six percent of children aged 15 years or younger had accessed an adult website;
  • Five percent of visitors to such sites had been under-18;
  • One website alone, MindGeek’s, had been visited by 112,000 boys in the U.K. aged between 12- and 17-years-old;
  • Of the wider population, 23 percent of those who had used the net over the month had visited an adult site; and,
  • Visitors to adult sites spent an average of 15 minutes looking at them during each visit and typically clocked up two-and-a-half hours of time in total over the month.

ATVOD already forces U.K.-based sites to carry out age-verification checks before explicit VOD can be viewed online and on TV. The agency, through its parent agency, Ofcom, has the ability to demand fines against violators.

But the agency maintains that it is hamstrung because the majority of sexually explicit material available online is rooted overseas and that it has no control over it.

"Our argument is that even if you reduce the number of children who are accessing hardcore pornography online by 10 percent that would be a significant win," an ATVOD official told the BBC.