The UK government is planning on regulating streaming services such as Disney+, Netflix and Amazon Prime in the same way as it treats traditional broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV. This is because some services such as Netflix and Apple TV+ are not regulated in the UK at all.
More details will be published by the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden next week, with a white paper due later in the autumn. This change will see the media watchdog Ofcom gaining the same control over on-demand services, so that it can rule on complaints relating to issues including bias and inaccuracy.
The government will be considering whether rules need strengthening, such as if the content would need to have appropriate age ratings in place and whether they should be subject to standards on impartiality and accuracy for documentaries and news programming. While Disney+ doesn’t have any news content, it does have a large number of documentaries.
The only content on the BBC iPlayer is subject to Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, which includes enhanced protections to audiences from harmful or offensive material and rules on accuracy and impartiality.
Existing audience protections on UK-regulated video-on-demand services are primarily focused on children and rules preventing content which incites hatred. Some services have introduced their own voluntary procedures – such as Netflix’s voluntary age ratings partnership with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).
The current landscape makes for an inconsistent, ad-hoc and potentially harmful gap in regulation between video-on-demand services alongside a potential competitive disadvantage between UK broadcasters and their internationally-funded online counterparts.
It is also almost twenty years since the UK broadcast sector’s regulatory framework was introduced in the Communications Act 2003, which was designed before the arrival of online companies such as Apple+, Amazon Prime and Netflix in their current form.
The government will also take forward existing commitments to legislate to strengthen public service broadcasters’ “prominence” online so that their video-on-demand content can easily be found and accessed on smart TVs and other platforms and devices.
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden 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.
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.
In another statement a government source said:
“UK broadcasters are having to compete with these giants with one hand tied behind their backs. The companies have deep pockets and go largely unregulated, leaving them free to impose their interpretation of British life.
The rules governing the way broadcasters operate were written for an analogue age. They are not fit for purpose in an era of smart TVs, streaming and on-demand programming.
With the pace of change and the increase in global competition, the culture secretary feels it is time to look at how we can level the playing field between broadcasters and video-on-demand services and make sure the UK’s broadcasting landscape is fit for the 21st century.”
With Disney running television channels such as National Geographic, FOX and the Disney Channel in the UK for years, Disney will be much more used to complying with Ofcom’s rules than Netflix or Amazon. However, this ruling may result in some changes in the future, though it’s unclear what that could be.
Disney+ currently has over 7.5 million subscribers in the UK and it’s likely other governments around the world start looking at the rules regarding streaming services as they continue to grow and ultimately become more popular than traditional television channels.
What do you think of the UK government’s decision?
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.