As the U.K. government pursues a potential sale of public broadcast operation Channel 4, it will also look at whether tighter oversight of U.S. streaming services is needed.
It could mean that Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and others would soon be subject to similar rules as traditional linear broadcasters including the BBC, ITV and Sky. New rules under consideration include changes to age ratings and addressing impartiality and accuracy rules for documentaries and news content along with “measures to level the playing field so public service broadcasters can compete with international rivals.”
“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,” said U.K. Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden in a statement. “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.”
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Currently in the U.K., only content on the BBC iPlayer is subject to Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, which aims to protect audiences from harmful or offensive material and provides rules on accuracy and impartiality.
However, some services have introduced their own voluntary procedures like Netflix’s voluntary age ratings partnership with the British Board of Film Classification.
Still, “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 U.K. broadcasters and their internationally funded online counterparts,” the U.K. government said in a news release.
The U.K. broadcast sector’s regulatory framework was introduced in the Communications Act of 2003, meaning that it could not have accounted for Amazon and Netflix in their current forms or the wave of new subscription streaming services including Disney+ and Apple TV+.
Along with potential placing new restrictions on international streaming services, the U.K. government has said it seek to strengthen public service broadcasters’ online presence to make their VOD content easier to surface on smart TVs and other connected TV platforms.