The UK regulator Ofcom would be given new powers to regulate streaming services under a proposal in a new government White Paper.
It would be able to rule on potentially harmful content ¬– including unchallenged health claims – with a fine of £250,000 or 5% of a company’s revenue for broadcasters who fail to comply. To do so, operations such as YouTube and Netflix, would be brought under UK jurisdiction. They would then have to follow a new Video-on-Demand Code, like the present Broadcasting Code.
Except for BBC iPlayer, on-demand services are not subject to Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code which sets standards for content including harmful or offensive material, accuracy, fairness and privacy.
Ofcom estimates three in four UK households use a subscription video-on-demand service. But services like Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video are not regulated in the UK to the same extent as UK linear TV channels. Netflix and Apple TV+ are not regulated in the UK at all.
“The UK’s TV and radio industries are world-renowned for their creativity, driven by exceptional talent that is delivering ground-breaking public service programming,” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said. “Set against the backdrop of the digital transformation of our viewing habits, today’s plans will revamp decades-old laws to help our public service broadcasters compete in the internet age and usher in a new golden age for British TV and radio. This will provide jobs and growth in the future along with the content we all love.”
The White Paper also puts forward plans for the controversial sell-off of Channel 4. The government says this would give the network the “tools it needs to succeed in the future as a public service broadcaster while protecting its distinctiveness”. Channel 4 would then have the same status as ITV and Channel 5, privately owned, but with public service obligations.
Current rules – and indeed the way Channel 4 was set up – mean it cannot make or distribute its own programmes. The White Paper would reverse this, while setting minimum quotas on independent commissions. The ‘new’ privatised Channel 4 would also be required to create “distinctive, educational, innovative and experimental programming” and continue to make programmes in the regions.
In response, a Channel 4 statement said: “Channel 4 will study the White Paper issued by DCMS, and a considered response will follow. However, Channel 4 remains committed to upholding and maximising its remit and public service purpose that has enabled it to shape Britain’s creative culture and make a significant contribution to the creative industries, while also investing across the UK’s Nations and Regions to create local and regional economic and social benefit.”
There would also be legislation designed to give public broadcasters must carry status on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks. The rules will require PSBs to “offer” their on-demand services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5, STV Player, S4C Clic) to platforms while requiring platforms to “carry” these PSB on-demand services.
The Crown Jewels list of major sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon would be restricted to the public service broadcasters. A review will also look at adding digital and on demand rights to the scheme to ensure free-to-view access in UK homes.
The government fears that a major event broadcast overnight might then have its streaming or catch-up rights sold to another broadcaster. It gives the example of the Olympic 100 metres final in what could be a reference to the restrictions on the BBC following the sale of Olympic rights to Warner Bros. Discovery.