With the global expansion of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Paramount+, and Disney+, many countries’ governments are examining the impact these American companies are having and considering changes to their operations.

Many countries already impose rules on streaming services regarding the availability of a certain amount of local content to help protect the local film industry and local customs and communities.

Recently, Ofcom, the regulator for communications services in the United Kingdom, revealed its plans for a new media bill, which has been updated to deal with streaming services like Disney+ and Netflix.

Viewership via streaming services is exploding. On average, people in the UK watched 30% less broadcast TV in 2022 compared to 2014, while two-thirds of households now subscribe to at least one video-on-demand service.

Part of the bill is to apply an Ofcom-regulated video-on-demand code for major streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. This bill means that these services will be subject to editorial standards similar to those that protect people from harmful content on broadcast TV. Ofcom will handle complaints about the content shown on these platforms.

King Charles also recently set out in his King’s Speech that streaming services like Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon need to follow the exact same rules as local platforms like the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4, to help protect UK citizens.  

The new media bill is also introducing some new rules and adjusting some existing rules, including making sure streaming services meet accessibility requirements, such as subtitling, so more disabled people can access this content.

A new draft version is being developed, and round-table meetings with the streaming services about the changes are planned. Once the code is complete, Ofcom has given the major streaming services a twelve-month grace period to ensure compliance with the new rules, which means the rules will not fully be in effect until 2026.

One of the significant issues is how this change could impact on documentaries, which are much more likely to fall foul of the new rules, which enfore impartiality and to give fair and just treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes. 

Other new changes to the new media bill will require streaming devices to offer local public broadcasters apps like BBC iPlayer and ITVX to ensure British citizens have easy access to this programming. There will also be changes to some of the quotas for regional news, children’s content, etc., on local platforms, as many of the quotas have become outdated or unsustainable.

Netflix has been critical of the move and said it would have a chilling effect on the streaming service’s appetite to make its documentaries available to British audiences and also even threaten the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee that it may preemptively remove some films and TV shows to make sure titles are compliant.

Disney has two major studios creating documentaries, ABC News Studios and FX.  However, not every documentary is currently released on Disney+ outside of the US.  So the new rules could impact on the release of some future titles, since Disney will want to avoid a fine of £250,000 ($308,000) or, even worse, be restricted in the UK entirely if they break rules around harmful material that have applied to the public broadcasters for decades. 

With the major streaming services becoming more powerful and influential, it is only natural that some governments will want to apply the same rules to them as they would to the more traditional local platforms. It also makes sense from the regional platforms’ point of view to want the same rules applied to the major streaming services that they have to comply with.

Over the next few years, we will likely see more details revealed on this new media bill, and we will see other countries wanting to adjust their own laws to adapt to a new era with streaming services having more influence. Streaming services will have to comply if they want to continue doing business in those countries.

What do you think of Ofcom’s plans?  Let us know on social media!


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Roger Palmer

Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom. Email: Roger@WhatsOnDisneyPlus.com Twitter: Twitter.com/RogPalmerUK Facebook: Facebook.com/rogpalmeruk

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