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European Commission

Neelie Kroes

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

The Future of Media

Future Media Lab. Annual Conference by EMMA (European Magazine Media Association) / Brussels

23 April 2013

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We are all familiar with trends in the media sector today. Particularly the impact of the Internet.

The digital world is blurring boundaries between sectors like media, telecom and ICT. This disrupts business models; challenges the value chain; changes the role of everyone from publisher to paperboy; blurs the line between pure information and journalism

And it also changes how people consume.

People are getting used to seamless services: anything, anywhere, on any device. They expect that from "old" media too.

If they don't find it, they vote with their feet.

You don't need me to remind you of these well-known trends. But I do want to share two thoughts.

First, let's not just think about where we are today: today's position, today's trends.

Let's do the opposite. Let's think about tomorrow. By 2060, what will "media" mean? What do we want from “media”? What should the sector look like? How many futures are there? How will we get there? What will the consumer experience look like, who will deliver it, how will quality be maintained and rewarded? That's the philosophy of our Futurium project which you are taking part in today.

Second, how should we respond to change? It's a question I see many sectors confronting, from entertainment to healthcare. They all ask: do we change to meet new realities? Or defend against them and hope they'll go away? My view is clear: change is inevitable, adaptation an imperative. If we wait for the future to happen to us, we will become irrelevant.

So for all of those sectors, my advice is the same. Don't defend against digital disruption; to take advantage of online opportunity, you must adapt and innovate. The sectors that have done so are already getting their digital dividend; those that haven't start to get squeezed.

But how to adapt? Of course that is the hardest question. Do we need more “middlemen” in the value chain, or fewer? Do you simply react to demand or find a business model the consumer didn't know she wanted? Do governments need to intervene with detailed rules, or do industry and the consumer know best?

I don't know the answers to all those questions. But I do know policymakers and the industry need to engage for the futures ahead.

First, the sector can itself argue for the changes we need. Christian Van Thillo's Forum on Media Futures gathered many disparate voices: they agreed on the digital opportunities for the media sector. Most of all they offered a wake-up call to policy makers and the sector: to urgently reform, and put consumers at the centre. They committed to explain and champion those ideas to others: and I know they are still hard at work.

Second, we must defend media freedom and pluralism. The High level Group on that issue recently offered us their report: independent but important.

This is a debate I want to hold in the open: with civil society, the media sector and others. And that is why we are consulting on all of their recommendations. When it comes to safeguarding a free and pluralistic media sector, there are dangers from acting too much, and from acting too little. How do we define and protect freedom and pluralism in the future, including in a digital world? So I am asking you all how to best move forward.

Third, we must recognise how sectors are converging, and consider how to react. Take Connected TV: in its various forms, it could be a great platform for new content; with convenience, creativity, and choice. But it also means sectors once distinct converging: some historically subject to certain rules and protections; others not. Tomorrow we will launch a Green Paper to consult on these issues.

Our consultation won't take sides; it raises questions, without answering them. Whatever their perspective, I know many actors agree this is a debate we need to have in the EU.

And fourth, we have today's debate. The question is: how does disruption drives media innovation? An important debate; and I have one plea. Free yourselves from legacy thinking. Don't just think about your competitive advantage, about winning the regulatory tug-of-war. Don't just recite mantra positions of the past; but think how the future should be.

You all have an interest in creating a European media sector that is strong, free, and digital. So do I. So please give me your ideas.

I am ready to act within this mandate. I want to set a framework to seize the opportunities the future; not protect the procedures of the past.

You stimulate the EU economy, employing millions. You contribute to our cultural and creative society. And you support democracy itself: holding the powerful to account.

Yet protecting those objectives does not mean protecting the status quo. Legacy systems and structures that served those aims well in the 20th century may no longer do so in the 21st. Yes, we must protect values: but values aren't the same as vested interests.

So today, and in all our other debates, I hope you participate actively, constructively, strategically. Thank you.


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