Apple TV+ and Other Streaming Services Could Face Ofcom Regulation in the UK

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U.S. video streaming services including Apple TV+, Netflix, and Disney+ are likely to face tighter regulation in the U.K. as part of proposals being considered by the British government.

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Ministers at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport today announced that they will consult on plans to bring streaming video platforms under British broadcasting laws in order to level the regulatory playing field with traditional broadcasters like the BBC, ITV, Sky and others.

Traditional broadcasters like the BBC and ITV must comply with regulator Ofcom’s code, which covers issues including harm, offense, accuracy, and impartiality. If the rules of the code are broken, Ofcom can dole out fines and suspend licenses.

Currently the only streaming platform that must also adhere to the code is the BBC iPlayer, while the likes of Netflix and Amazon do not fall under its remit, because their headquarters are not located in the United Kingdom.

Some services use their own voluntary measures, such as Netflix’s adoption of British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) age ratings on content. However, in a press release announcing the review, ministers say the time has come for the current status quo to change:

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.

According to the press release, the review will look at whether rules need strengthening to ensure that all streamers have appropriate content age ratings in place and whether they should be subject to standards on impartiality and accuracy for documentaries and news programming.

“Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age,” said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, announcing the review. “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.”

The streaming service regulation review will be used to prepare a white paper, which could see traditional broadcasting laws transformed to account for the rise of streaming and on-demand services.

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