Netflix, Prime Video & Disney+ to face Ofcom scrutiny as UK gov’t reveals media reforms

The Crown

The UK government has outlined plans to bring global services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ under new Ofcom rules to allow British pubcasters to “better compete with streaming giants”.

Publishing its long-awaited draft media bill this week, the UK’s department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) shared proposals that will see streaming viewers now able to formally complain to regulatory body Ofcom, which DCMS said would strengthen Ofcom’s duty to assess audience protection measures such as age ratings and viewer guidance on the platforms.

Ofcom will gain “more robust powers” to investigate and take action to enforce standards, including issuing fines to streamers of up to £250,000 ($309,000) and – in serious cases – restricting a service’s availability in the UK.

C4 remit expanded

Further proposals include including lifting the barrier on Channel 4 being able to produce its own content.

The commercially funded public broadcaster will be handed “a new legal duty to consider its long-term sustainability alongside the delivery of its public service remit,” which will allow it to “continue to produce high impact, distinctive shows long into the future,” said the DCMS. The move follows C4’s succesful battle against privatisation.

Geographic restrictions will also be removed for Welsh language broadcaster S4C so that it can broaden its reach in the UK and beyond and offer its content on new digital services.

Other rules include ensuring pubcasters’ on-demand services, such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX, are easier to discover on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks, while global SVODs will have to follow new Ofcom content code to protect audiences from a wider range of harmful material – such as misleading health claims.

Streamers will also be required support people with disabilities and VOD services will have to provide subtitles on 80 per cent of their programmes, while 10 per cent must have audio description and 5 per cent signed interpretation.

The DCMS said that new laws will introduce “simpler, more flexible rules” on what TV programmes public service broadcasters are required to show, so that they are better equipped to adapt to changing viewer habits as people increasingly watch TV on digital devices instead of traditional ‘linear’ TV.

The latest research from Ofcom indicates that traditional ‘linear’ TV viewing is down more than 25% since 2011 and 68% among 16-24-year-olds.

The DCMS said that the bill will enable pubcasters the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV and S4C to “unleash their potential to grow, produce more top quality British content and invest in new technologies” to keep viewers tuning in amid “fierce competition” from subscription-based online platforms.

UK producer body Pact responded positively to the publication of the draft media bill, which it said would “help to ensure that online only commissions are made on fair terms” with CEO John McVay commenting that the  legislation “should ensure a fairer playing field for both producers and PSBs in the UK.”

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