AER, the European Digital Radio Alliance (EDRA) and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) came together to co-sign a letter highlighting and addressing the growing dominance of digital voice assistant platforms: they are gatekeepers for radio services and they are going to have more prominent role in the future.
The three organisations urge the co-legislators to clarify the text and make sure the proposed Digital Markets Act regulation includes voice assistants in the scope of this new regulatory framework so to prevent any anti-competitive behaviors from the platforms.
Joint statement to EU institutions:
Public service and private radio broadcasters call on EU lawmakers to include voice assistants in the Digital Markets Act.
Europe’s private and public service radio broadcasters have come together through the undersigned organisations – EDRA, EBU and AER – to request you to address the growing dominance of digital voice assistant platforms. Urgent intervention is required to prevent these platforms from being able to adopt anti-competitive behaviours; this could include charging for access, self-preferencing, restricting access to data, using data from third party services to develop their own services, and inserting publicity without permission.
We welcome the Digital Markets Act regulation (‘DMA’) as an essential step in restoring and promoting a fair relationship between gatekeepers and radio companies. Nonetheless, as it currently stands, it may fail to take advantage of this unique opportunity to provide appropriate regulatory safeguards for the online audio/radio environment, at a crucial moment for this emerging market. We, therefore, call on the EU legislators to clarify the text, by explicitly mentioning that the proposed Digital Markets Act regulation also applies to voice assistants.
Traditionally associated with smart speakers, voice assistants have now been adopted in environments where physical keyboards are absent, e.g. on smartphones or in the car via their integration into infotainment operating systems.
The growth in connected devices and the rapid growth in usage of voice assistants has started to change the way audio services are discovered and accessed. The European radio and audio sector is fully embracing the opportunities that digital technologies have to offer, having provided some of the first services available via voice assistants.
Access to broadcasters’ content via voice assistants is an important paradigm shift that will radically change our relationship with listeners. Historically, radio broadcasters have enjoyed a secure position in the audio value chain, where licences for broadcast have been granted by regulators, and broadcasters have owned or leased their own transmitters to reach their audiences, without any interference by third parties. With the adoption of voice assistants in the home, the car, on smartphones and tablets, access to audio and radio content will become increasingly intermediated by voice assistant providers, which will impact content transmission and users’ freedom of choice. Such new intermediation is particularly challenging, as the main tech industry players benefit today from significant market power in the voice assistant market as well as in adjacent markets, which enables them to impose conditions regarding the content accessible on their devices, and thereby impacting listeners.
The case for regulating voice assistants under the DMA is not just economic. It is also crucial to safeguard media pluralism and the provision of trusted information. Radio delivers a broad range of public value to listeners, including trusted local and national news bulletins that reach hundreds of millions of listeners daily across Europe, at a time when fake news is rife on social media networks. Clarifying the application of the DMA to the audio/radio sector is an important step in protecting the most trusted source1 of news and information and supporting media pluralism in Europe.
While the European Commission may have intended to include voice assistants in its DMA proposal2, the current text does not make this explicit enough. Later, the European Commission itself raised again concerns about the significant market power and gatekeeper role of voice assistant providers in the first findings of its investigation into the Consumer Internet of Things3. We note that the significant market power of voice assistants is often amplified in online environments where they are integrated, for instance, in in-car infotainment systems where typically listeners are only able to access their digital radio and audio apps via a single voice assistant platform, thereby strengthening the latter’s gatekeeper position with respect to radio content providers. Typically, they provide users with only one result, instead of a list of results, thus making the choice for the user and directly influencing the selection. For instance, in response to a request for news, a voice assistant will only provide one specific source.
Therefore, it is essential that the DMA covers this type of platform, either by clarifying the definition of “online intermediary services” or including them as a new “core platform service”.
Furthermore, considering the small size of the digital audio market, dominated by a limited number of gatekeepers enjoying significant market power, we welcome the possibility for the Commission to designate a provider of a core platform service as a gatekeeper, where such a provider fulfils the qualitative criteria of Article 3(1) without meeting all the thresholds of Article 3(2) through the flexibility offered by Article 3(6).
In her statement following the publication of the first findings of the sector inquiry on the Consumer Internet of Things4, Vice-President Margrethe Vestager stressed that a number of the practices reported in the inquiry feature in the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the Commission’s proposal for the Digital Markets Act, and that “the sector inquiry will certainly contribute to the debate on the scope of the Digital Markets Act”. We believe the Digital Markets Act regulation is an essential step in restoring and promoting a fair relationship between gatekeepers and radio services. This balance is first and foremost essential for EU citizens who trust such services every day. This is a unique opportunity to promote a fair and open online audio environment, at a crucial moment for this emerging market.
We would therefore urge the co-legislators to update the DMA along these lines to protect the radio industry, not just for economic reasons, but because of the widespread societal benefits – the most trusted news source (as demonstrated during the COVID crisis), connecting people to their communities, and providing companionship. If such modifications are not included, the DMA will have failed to provide the radio and audio market with the protection it requires to function effectively.
The Association of European Radios (AER) is the Europe-wide trade body for commercial radio, representing the interests of companies operating over 5,000 commercial radio stations to the EU Institutions. The AER’s mission is to promote the development of commercially-funded radio broadcasting in Europe, by advocating for a fair and sustainable economic regulatory framework for radio, which will, in turn, allow commercial radio to continue to deliver significant public value and, beyond that, support media plurality, improve social cohesion and promote European culture.