Streamers to be regulated by Ofcom in the UK for the first time

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Netflix, Prime Video and AppleTV+ could face fines if their content flaunts UK standards.

We’d usually be more inclined to talk about a very different King’s Speech here at Film Stories, but today’s opening of Parliament in the UK has little to do with the film that won the director of Cats his Oscar. Unless, of course, it turns up on Netflix.

No, instead the Media Bill – long in the draft stage, now confirmed – mentioned in Charles III’s maiden speech could have big ramifications for the way we view streaming content here in the UK. As part of its proposal, the government wants streaming services to be regulated by Ofcom (the UK’s broadcast standards watchdog) in the same way as traditional broadcast media.

This means that even US-based streamers available in the UK could be subject to the same rules which have governed TV and radio broadcasts since 2003 – and face fines of up to £250,000 if they mess up.

The Media Bill will “better protect children by applying similar standards for TV to the streaming giants”, the government have said. “The bill will ensure standards are upheld on video-on-demand services through a proportionate new Video-on-demand Code, to be drafted and enforced by Ofcom.”

Now being confronted with a bit more red tape to eat into their profits, the streamers, predictably, aren’t happy. Netflix wrote to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee earlier this year, suggesting that, if put into law, the bill could force them to pre-emptively remove films and TV shows from its UK service so as not to risk the ire of Ofcom’s dreaded checklist.

Alongside the changes to streamer regulation, the bill (in its latest draft stage from March 2023) also looks to simplify the remit of Public Service Broadcasters, ensure their content is easily accessible on smart TVs and streaming sticks and remove Channel 4’s existing publisher-broadcaster restriction to allow it to produce and monetise its own content.

As you might have guessed, most of the traditional broadcasters seem pretty chuffed about that.

ITV CEO Carolyn McCall said on Tuesday: “We are very pleased with the inclusion of the Media Bill in the King’s Speech. This is a critical step towards ensuring that public service broadcasters can continue to invest in the brilliant British content our audiences love, because our shows will be available and easy for people to find on all major TV platforms and devices.”

Stephen van Rooyen, CEO of Sky UK & Ireland, added: “We welcome the government’s plans to introduce the Media Bill in today’s King’s Speech. It’s important any proposals continue to allow public service broadcasters and commercial broadcasters like Sky to strike the right deals to ensure viewers across the nation continue to benefit from the very best of British content.”

It’s so far unclear when the final draft of the bill will make its way through parliament, or exactly what Ofcom’s new Video-on-demand Code will look like. We’ll have more on that when we get it…

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