23 June 2021

Streaming regulation would help BBC compete in digital world – Dowden

23 June 2021

Regulation of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ would prevent traditional broadcasters such as the BBC from having to “compete with one hand behind their backs”, the Culture Secretary has said.

The Government has announced it will consult on whether the regulation of streaming services – so they are subject to similar rules as traditional linear broadcasters including Channel 4, ITV and Sky – needs “strengthening”.

It will consider whether new rules around impartiality and accuracy are needed for documentaries and news content on the platforms to “level the playing field” with broadcasters, who are regulated by the watchdog Ofcom.

Media stock (PA Archive)

Writing in The Times, Oliver Dowden said UK broadcasters are “holding their own” and cited the success of the BBC’s I May Destroy You and Channel 4’s Its A Sin, but added: “Our broadcasters can’t do it alone and they certainly can’t compete in a digital world while operating under analogue rules.

“So in the autumn I plan to bring forward a white paper on the future of broadcasting, and how we can make it fit for the 21st century.

“First we need to level the playing field and address one blatant disparity forcing traditional broadcasters to compete with one hand tied behind their backs. 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+. You’d be wrong.”

Mr Dowden said some services, such as Netflix, have introduced their own procedures, but added this is “ad-hoc and inconsistent”.

Michaela Coel (PA Wire)

He continued: “This summer we will consult on whether it’s time to set the same basic rules for video-on-demand services as we do for traditional broadcasters.”

At present, Ofcom regulates British broadcasters, but streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, which are international companies, do not fall under its remit.

Netflix and Amazon both produce a significant number of shows in the UK, including Sex Education on Netflix and Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon.

Earlier this year Disney+ also announced plans to create original content in the UK, across drama, comedy and unscripted.

The Government review will also consider the privatisation of Channel 4.

The channel has been owned by the Government since its launch in 1982 and receives its funding from advertising.

The broadcaster, which boasts Great British Bake Off, Gogglebox and SAS: Who Dares Wins among its biggest shows, was originally set up to deliver to under-served audiences.

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