Streaming services like Netflix could soon be regulated just like broadcast TV channels in the UK. The government wants broadcast regulator Ofcom to start keeping an eye on the streaming giants in order to protect UK audiences from harmful material.
The plans are set out in a white paper called Up Next – the government’s vision for the broadcasting sector.
Issued by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, it sets out plans for 'light touch' regulation to apply to only the biggest streaming firms. The government only mentions Apple TV+ and Netflix, but it's likely that the plans will also apply to Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.
As well as protecting viewers from harmful or offensive material, regulation would ensure streaming firms adhere to rules regarding accuracy, fairness and privacy.
Last summer, the government issued a consultation on how to regulate the streamers. In its response, it says it is "deeply concerned that UK citizens do not currently have adequate regulatory protections from these on-demand services." But it does acknowledge that all the big streamers have their own audience protection measures in place, and so don't pose a high risk to audiences at present (though it does note that this could change). Hence the 'light touch' approach.
It's leaving out the smaller streaming services because it believes it unnecessary "to apply UK standards to content that is not directed towards UK audiences, and which the overwhelming majority of UK audiences would be unlikely to regularly come across."
At the moment, BBC iPlayer is the only video-on-demand service that has to abide by Ofcom's Broadcasting Code, The Video on Demand Code.
Any streamers breaking the code could face a maximum fine of £250,000, or up to five per cent of their revenue, whichever is higher. For some of the bigger services, that could be a damaging amount indeed.
The government is working with Ofcom to develop the necessary regulatory framework, which will then have to go through Parliament. So don't expect this code to land too soon.
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