U.K. Imposes New Rules for VOD Services

LONDON — Online distributors of adult content in the U.K. will be forced to block R18 video-on-demand adult content before users are able to reach age-verified pay walls, according to a new law that targets content strength. The law is slated to go into effect Dec. 1.

Pete Johnson, who leads ATVOD as chief executive, told XBIZ on Monday that the new legislation defines "specially restricted material" in a manner that matches ATVOD’s current interpretation of the existing legislation.

"In other words the new legislation simply puts beyond doubt that U.K.-based providers of on-demand program services must keep R18 equivalent material out of reach of under 18s," he said. "As that was already ATVOD’s position, this aspect of the regulations is unlikely to result in a change to ATVOD’s investigatory practices.

"The new legislation also prohibits on a U.K. on-demand program service material equivalent to that which would be refused a classification by the BBFC. This is a new requirement and we will monitor the impact of enforcing this new rule on our workload over the coming months.

"Neither aspect of the legislation affects the range of websites subject to regulation by ATVOD: The definition of an on-demand program service remains unchanged."

The U.K. government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) brought the legislative proposal to Parliament on Nov. 6, where it was approved. The law makes it a criminal offense for violators under Section 368E of the 2003 Communications Act relative to "harmful matter."

News of the "Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014" coming into law in the U.K. was first noted by XBIZ.net blogger Ben Yates.  

The law forces online companies to prohibit material classified as the equivalent of R18 classification prior to the pay wall unless users have been verified as to age typically through credit cards. R18 under the U.K. film classification system is classified as a video work "to be supplied other than in a licensed sex shop."

Communications regulator OFCOM, which receives complaints from on-demand authority ATVOD over existing laws relative to age-verification over online adult content, will be the authoritative agency governing the new statutory instrument, No. 2916.

Several companies, including Veridu and VeriMe, which have jumped on the scene and have launched new products to provide age-verification solutions online and through mobile for adult content, stand to capitalize on the new law.

The new law applies only to U.K. sites, but government sources several months ago from within the DCMS said the plans would inevitably “starve” any Internet company trying to make money in the U.K. If that were the case, foreign adult tube sites would be the hardest hit.