Digital media ecosystems and the youth market segment: a national perspective

Given the oligopolistic structure of the audiovisual market and taking into account that teenagers represent an important segment as consumers, what should be done in order to increase audiovisual media market competition and protect a highly vulnerable group?

The digital media ecosystem in Spain | iStock The digital media ecosystem in Spain | iStock

The social media giant Facebook is again under the spotlight and increased public scrutiny after the whistleblower Frances Haugen's testimony broke major international news. As the British news media outlet The Guardian informs in an article published online on October 6th, the former Facebook employee "has accused the social media company of serially misleading investors about its approach to [child] safety and the size of its audience". Earlier that same week, on Monday October 4th, a worldwide near six-hours outage disabled the access of billions of users to their social media accounts held by Facebook’s platforms including Instagram and WhatsApp.

On a different note, earlier in September 2021, WhatsApp Ireland was fined with €225m by the Data Protection Commission (DPC) for infringements of data protection rules, lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent in ad personalization.

These two recent events bring into our attention the ongoing discussion on the critical role played by the youth market segment in the development of global digital economy in the age of emerging data-driven business models. Youth as data workers and the concerns regarding online data protection, privacy and safety measures implemented by big tech firms including social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat), online video services (YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video...), and instant messaging systems (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype...) are among the key regulatory and legislative priorities in the European Union and beyond. This topic is of crucial importance, mostly because powerful tech companies are very popular among the youth, according to the recent data published by the Digital News Report 2021 from Oxford University.

The challenge

In recent years, the advances in the Spanish new digital media ecosystem have changed drastically the interaction, engagement, content creation (activities on social media, interactive gaming, written and video-blogging, music, podcasting etc.) and the general media consumption habits and patterns. As noted by the head of CAC (Consell de l'Audiovisual de Catalunya), the main trend in the market is the growing rate of audiovisual media consumption on video sharing platforms (YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo, TikTok...) and social media networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter...). In the same time, concerns regarding the protection of minors and youth which share personal data on the internet, the importance of digital privacy and online safety are raised. The blurring role of the youth segment as primary market/consumers for media products and as users/producers represents a critical issue that requires a deep reflection on the role played by youth in the digital media workforce.

The advent of youth new digital careers as data workers, the media exposure, the media effects on audiences and the behaviour of media enterprises are monitored by several institutions, including the Spanish National Commission of Markets and Competition (CMNC), the Audiovisual Council of Catalonia, the Audiovisual Council of Andalusia, along with several domestic stakeholders (civil society organizations, NGOs, academia, industry associations and other public or private interest groups). At an international level, an important role is played by the European Audiovisual Observatory, the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities and the European Regulatorys Group for Audiovisual Media Services. 

The new obligations are set to increase the competitiveness of these companies, given that their size and revenues might constitute a disadvantage when competing with Netflix and others 

In this context, it is worth adressing the current challenges for the Spanish audiovisual market sector in relation to the new obligations for television audiovisual media service, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and video-sharing platform services providers derived from the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). This revised Directive introduces changes in the General Spanish Audiovisual Media Bill

The solution

During the transposition process of the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive into national law which started in December 2019, Spanish authorities and various public and private stakeholders took a series of actions aiming at tackling the above-mentioned issues. The inclusion of the AVMSD in the Spanish legal system entails the repeal of Law 7/2010 of 31 March 2010, the General Law on Audiovisual Media (LGCA). The Bill is considered to have positive effects on the activity of small and medium-sized Spanish enterprises. The new obligations are set to increase the competitiveness of these companies, given that their size and revenues might constitute a disadvantage when competing with powerful players that invest heavily in the acquisition and production of content (for instance, Netflix).

On the one hand, Spanish authorities initiated various public consultations and public hearings prior to the preparation of the Draft LGCA, collecting industry data on the needs of the players in the audiovisual market sector. For instance, the CNMC opened a public consultation on the application of audiovisual regulation to media service providers supported on video-sharing-platforms targeting tech companies, social organizations, advertisers, advertising agencies and public entities. Based on the input collected, the Draft Law contains measures that guarantee the rights of users to receive pluralistic audiovisual communications, enhances the protection of minors and viewers in general, protects the rights to cultural and linguistic diversity and the rights to transparent audiovisual communication, and provides a minimum regulation for video-sharing platform services.

#AMiNoMenganyen (#TheyCantFoolMe) is a campaign launched by the CAC which wants to promote critical thinking and to warn about the dangers of cyberbullying, fake news and threats to online data privacy

On the other hand, various domestic public and private entities took action and claimed a stronger protection of minors and people with disabilities against hate crimes and hate speech, audiovisual media coverage of social groups with disabilities, accessibility measures to audiovisual media content, guaranteed independence of media regulators and the prioritization of media literacy programs.

Regarding the issue of youth, relevant for the discussion are the amendments of the AVMSD aiming at strengthening the protection of minors and viewers in general from potentially harmful and prejudicial content on linear audiovisual programmes, video-sharing platforms, and social networks. As recent studies show, the Audiovisual Council of Catalonia (CAC) took a series of steps to tackle these issues. The Catalan media watchdog´s actions include: launching the Platform for Media Education aiming at promoting digital media literacy; the signed cooperation agreement with various Catalan medical associations and colleges of physicians aiming at combating fake news related to health issues and promoting research into the effects of online gambling and gambling advertisements. A very interesting initiative is the ‘#AMiNoMenganyen’ (#theycantfoolme) campaign launched by the CAC in collaboration with the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation and ‘la Caixa’ Social Welfare Center. The purpose of this campain was to promote critical thinking and to warn about the dangers of cyberbullying, fake news and threats to online data privacy. The CAC publishes interesting reports on various aspects regarding the digital media landscape, including audiovisual media consumption patterns, gender stereotyping in advertising, cybercontrol in teen dating, and gambling advertising on the internet.

In addition, during the transposition procedure, civil society organizations, NGO’s, industry associations and other interest groups engaged in several initiatives aiming at enhancing the protection of minors and children exposed to online gambling and subliminal advertising.

The legislation is solid and the involvement of the various organizations through common agreements makes it possible to predict good results in the short and medium term

Summing up, these recent developments reveal that Spain represents an interesting case for international benchmarking regarding the regulation of the audiovisual media sector mostly during the transposition of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. Once the law is enacted, an assessment of the effectiveness of the new measures would shed light on the impact on audiences and media enterprises. However, although there is still much to be done, the legislation is solid and the involvement of the various organizations through common agreements makes it possible to predict good results in the short and medium term.

Article based on the paper presented at Weizenbaum Conference 2021, organized by The Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society:

Mutu, A. (2021). “Media Literacy and the Protection of Minors in the Digital Age: Intermediary initiatives during the transposition of the AVMS Directive in Spain”. In Proceedings of the Weizenbaum Conference 2021 (pp. 1-4). Berlin: Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society - The German Internet Institute.

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