U.K. Government to Consider Tightening Regulation of Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon

The U.K. government will “consider tightening regulation of video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) revealed on Wednesday.

The government consultation will explore VOD services being subject to similar rules as traditional linear broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV and Sky. These could include changes to age ratings and addressing impartiality and accuracy rules for documentaries and news content. In addition, “measures to level the playing field so public service broadcasters can compete with international rivals,” are also being considered.

This is in order to ensure that the U.K. has a “diverse, free and pluralistic broadcasting landscape with high standards,” said a DCMS statement.

“We need to level the playing field and address one blatant disparity forcing traditional broadcasters to compete with one hand tied behind their backs,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, writing in The Times. “Every ‘linear’ broadcaster — BBC, Sky and so on — has to comply with stringent content and audience protection standards.

“You might assume the same is true of video-on-demand services such as Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. You’d be wrong. Of course, some have done an admirable job of introducing their own procedures, such as Netflix’s voluntary age ratings partnership with the BBFC. But this is ad-hoc and inconsistent.

“It’s a golden age for TV and I want to keep it that way. But to do that we need the healthiest broadcasting landscape: one that is diverse, free and pluralistic. One where streamers can keep churning out brilliant shows, while traditional public service broadcasters retain their place at the centre of the U.K.’s media ecosystem.”

Pointing out the difference between linear TV and streaming, Dowden wrote that the record numbers for the BBC police drama “Line of Duty,” where millions watched the show live, was the exception rather than the rule. “Traditional viewing habits are dead. We live in a world of smart TVs and streaming sticks, catch-up and on-demand; of that nightly choice between Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime,” Dowden wrote.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited consultation on the privatization of public service broadcaster Channel 4 is also now a reality.

“With a fast-evolving media landscape, increasing competition and changing audience habits posing imminent challenges, moving Channel 4 into private ownership and changing its remit could help secure its future as a successful and sustainable public service broadcaster,” the DCMS said.

“Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age. The time has come to look at how we can unleash the potential of our public service broadcasters while also making sure viewers and listeners consuming content on new formats are served by a fair and well-functioning system,” said Dowden. “So we’ll now be looking at how we can help make sure Channel 4 keeps its place at the heart of British broadcasting and level the playing field between broadcasters and video-on-demand services.”

The reviews of VOD services and Channel 4 are ahead of a broadcasting white paper due in the fall. White papers are policy documents produced by the government that set out their proposals for future legislation, which can include a draft version of a bill to be presented to parliament.

White papers are a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected groups and allows final changes to be made before becoming law.

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