Levelling the playing field: Proposals to tighten UK streaming regulation

July 4, 2021

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

The government has announced that there will be a review into the rules in relation to streaming giants in the UK, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. This review may lead to more onerous content and audience protection standards being applicable to streaming services, such as approved age ratings and impartiality and accuracy reviews for documentaries.

What does this mean?

Currently, traditional broadcasters in the UK, such as the BBC and ITV, are subject to stricter regulations with an obligation to comply with Ofcom’s code. This covers a variety of issues, including offence, accuracy and impartiality. If these rules are broken, Ofcom can issue fines or suspend licences. However, the majority of streaming platforms do not have to comply with these regulations. As it stands, BBC iPlayer is the only streaming platform that must comply with Ofcom’s broadcasting code. Although, streaming services with head offices in the UK, such as Amazon Prime and Disney+, are not completely off the hook with applicable regulations in relation to hatred and “harmful material”. This does not include Netflix due to the company being based in the Netherlands, which takes it out of Ofcom’s jurisdiction. Thus, there are evident gaps in the regulations which is why the government is keen to review the rules. This could level the playing field between traditional broadcasters and online streaming services.

What's the big picture effect?

A review of the current regulations could lead to the decision that the regulations facing streaming giants need to be tightened. If so, this would provide a more welcome balance to the scales which seem to be tipped in favour of streaming platforms, as the regulatory inconsistencies between broadcasters and streaming platforms would be eradicated.

This is not the first time that major streaming services have faced backlash in the UK. The Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, criticised Netflix last year for a lack of a fiction warning in relation to historical inaccuracies in the hit show, The Crown.

Dowden has also spoken out about the government proposals for review, with hopes that tighter regulations in relation to online streaming platforms will help UK broadcasters to compete as all will be subject to the same basic rules. However, in practice, the strengthening of the rules may not have that great an effect when it comes to levelling the playing field as online streaming platforms are continuing to become increasingly popular at the expense of broadcast TV. This is due to the convenience of streaming platforms, as well as the vast amount of choice provided with personalisations related to the viewer’s preferences. The various lockdowns with stay at home orders have only boosted this surge, making it increasingly difficult for traditional broadcasters to compete. Therefore, any change to the regulations may struggle to make much difference as it seems that traditional broadcasters are fighting a losing battle. 

Report written by Imogen Wilson

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