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Audiovisual and media

Like other goods and services, audiovisual media - film, TV, video, radio - are subject to certain EU-wide rules to ensure they can circulate freely and fairly in the single European market, regardless of how they are delivered (traditional TV, video-on-demand, internet, etc.).

This is the aim of the EU's audiovisual & media policy, and more particularly the audiovisual media services directive English. In addition the EU is investing some €1.4bn in the audiovisual and cultural sectors through its Creative Europe programme .

Basic rules

Child watching TV © Shutterstock

EU rules protect children against harmful material.


The Audiovisual Media Services Directive requires EU countries to coordinate national legislation with each other to:

  • create comparable conditions in all countries for emerging audiovisual media
  • protect children & consumers
  • safeguard media pluralism English
  • combat racial & religious hatred
  • preserve cultural diversity
  • ensure national media regulators remain independent.


Each country is encouraged to follow minimum standards for the following:

  • Advertising & promotion - basic rules, specific rules and restrictions for certain products (e.g. alcohol, tobacco & medicine) and no more than 12 minutes' advertising per hour.
  • Listed events - major events like the Olympics or football World Cup must be available to a broad audience, not just on pay-TV channels.
  • Protecting children - late-night scheduling of violent or pornographic programmes, or limited access through parental control devices.
  • Promotion of European films and audiovisual content - at least half of TV broadcasting time for European films and television programmes. Video-on-demand services should also promote European works.
  • People with disabilities - media companies are encouraged to make their audiovisual content accessible to sight- and hearing-impaired people.

The Commission has also explored the implications for Europe of the convergence between traditional TV and the internet through a public consultation in 2013.

Promoting European content

The audiovisual media services directive promotes cultural diversity by supporting the production and distribution of European films and other audiovisual content:

  • requirement for broadcasters to devote at least half their broadcasting time to European films and programmes (excluding news, sports events, games, advertising, teletext and teleshopping services).
  • Video on-demand services should also contribute to promoting European works: EU countries can reserve a certain share for European content in on-demand catalogues or otherwise ensure that such content is prominently displayed in the catalogues. They can also impose a financial contribution on VOD service providers, to the production and/or purchase of such works.

Internationally, the EU is party to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and has secured an exemption from the WTO's free-trade rules (the ‘cultural exception’), that entitles EU countries to place limits on imports of cultural items like films.

Public service broadcasting

EU countries are committed to public broadcasting services - the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam recognised their role in providing for democratic, social and cultural needs that are not provided by the market, and preventing the industry from being dominated by one or more big players.

To this end, government grants to public broadcasters are excepted from the EU's strict rules on state subsidies - provided the funding is used for public-service goals and does not unfairly disadvantage private broadcasters.

Creative Europe programme

The 7-year Creative Europe programme aims to strengthen Europe’s cultural and creative sectors by providing funding for at least:

  • 250,000 artists and cultural professionals
  • 2,000 cinemas
  • 800 films
  • 4,500 book translations.

It will also launch a new financial guarantee facility enabling small businesses in the sector to access up to €750m in bank loans.

Film studio © Shutterstock

The EU supports European film-makers.

Programme goals

  • Safeguard and promote European cultural and linguistic diversity and richness.
  • Drive economic growth.
  • Help cultural & creative sectors to adapt to the digital age & globalisation.
  • Open up new international opportunities, markets and audiences.

Film heritage

The EU encourages its member countries to cooperate in conserving and safeguarding major works of cultural significance - and this includes cinema. To this end it has issued a Recommendation calling for Europe's film heritage to be methodically collected, catalogued, preserved and restored - so it can be passed on to future generations.


Culture and audiovisual

Updated in November 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series



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