Plans to guide Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ under the new Ofcom rules ensure public service broadcasters’ on-demand services are easier to find
- On smart TVs and streaming sticks.
- New better to guarantee access to UK radio on intelligent speakers and cut red tape on commercial stations
- Streaming service required
- To provide subtitles, audio account and signing to support people with disabilities.
Britain’s most prominent broadcasters will get new benefits and freedoms to produce more hit shows and better compete with global gush giants under new draft legislation printed today.
The proposed Media Bill aims to unlock the growth potential of public service broadcasters (PSBs) – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV and S4C – and enable them to produce more high-quality British content invest in cutting-edge technology. They were tuning in amid fierce competition from subscription-based online platforms.
It marks the next step in the Government’s plan to modernize the decades-old broadcasting law outlined in a white paper last year. In addition, smart speakers have added innovations to protect UK radio’s position as listeners increasingly move away from AM and FM stations in favour of internet-based services.
Innovative speaker platforms – such as Google and Amazon – will be required by law to ensure access to all licensed UK radio stations, from the central national station to the smallest community stations. The platforms would also be prohibited from charging stations to host their ads on their services or overlay them on top of those stations’ programs.
The Bill would also ease the regulatory burden on commercial radio stations, easing content and format requirements developed in the 1980s that commit them to broadcast certain genres of music or specific age groups. The new arrangement will allow stations to update or adapt their services without Ofcom’s consent. Reduced bureaucracy could save the radio industry up to £1 million annually by delivering these changes.
TV-centric measures include mainstream video-on-demand (VoD) services used in the UK – such as Netflix and Disney+ – under a new Ofcom content code to protect viewers from a wide range of harmful content – such as misleading health claims. Ofcom’s latest research indicates that traditional ‘linear’ TV viewing – where viewers watch programs broadcast at a fixed time, usually via terrestrial or satellite – has fallen by more than 25 per cent since 2011 and by more than 68 per cent among 16-24s.
Video-on-demand viewers will be able to discover public broadcasting services like BBC iPlayer and ITVX more easily on smart TVs, streaming sticks, and set-top boxes under the draft bill. It also includes new rules to make a video on demand content more accessible to people with visual and hearing disabilities.
The new laws will introduce more straightforward, more flexible rules on what TV programs public service broadcasters have to show, meaning these broadcasters – who commission around £1.2 billion a year on programming, almost all of which is spent in the UK – on traditional ‘linear’ TV Instead, people are better equipped to adapt to changes in viewing habits as people increasingly watch TV on digital devices.
Video-on-demand companies will be able to compete with public service broadcasters under the Media Bill. For the first time, we will be bringing UK-focused mainstream VOD services to the same rules as those that apply to linear TV. This will mean that UK audiences, particularly children, are better and more consistently protected from harmful material.
VoD will have to subtitle 80 per cent of their programs for the first time, while 10 per cent will have audio description and 5 per cent signed interpretation. Subtitles are carried over to most VOD programming, which can be inconsistent across services. Audio description and signing are rare, so the Bill would help ensure people with disabilities can enjoy the shows they love.
VoD viewers will now be able to complain to Ofcom formally. The Bill will strengthen Ofcom’s responsibility to assess viewer protection measures in VoD, such as age ratings and audience guidelines. Ofcom will have stronger powers to investigate and take enforcement action if they see fit, including issuing fines of up to £250,000 and – in the most severe and recurring cases – restricting the availability of services in the UK.
It will no longer prevent Channel 4 from making content if it chooses. It will have a new legal duty to consider long-term sustainability alongside delivering its public service remit, ensuring this globally renowned broadcaster can continue. To produce high-impact, distinctive shows long in the future.
The draft bill will boost S4C, the Welsh-language broadcaster, by removing geographical restrictions – ensuring it can extend its reach in the UK and beyond and offering its content to a range of new digital services, and guaranteeing major TV sporting events such as the Olympics and World Cup are as possible. More people will be free to visit.
In addition, section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which has yet to be implemented, is repealed. However, news publishers must pay both parties’ costs in any legal proceedings unless they are members of an authorized regulator.
To ensure that provision is made for the publication of the draft Bill these significant reforms will allow broadcast audiences to engage more with the industry. The Government is fully committed to introducing the Bill as soon as Parliamentary time permits.
- Today (Wednesday, 29 March), the Culture Secretary confirmed that he is permitting Ofcom to proceed with the renewal of the licenses for Channel 3 (C3) and Channel 5 (C5). In recognition of the valuable role played by ITV, STV and Channel 5, it currently holds these licenses in the UK.
- The current C3 and C5 assignments give ITV, STV and Channel 5 a number of benefits – including a prominent position in the UK’s Electronic Program Guide – in exchange for PSB obligations such as news and current affairs provisions and independent production quotas. Ofcom will lead the renewal process, and existing license holders have until 30 April 2023 to apply for renewal.
- The Government is committed to increasing Channel 4’s independent production quota, which it will do through secondary legislation. It continues to work closely with the industry to consider additional safeguards to protect Channel 4’s vital role in supporting the production sector following these changes.
More background on the rules of smart speakers
With the rapid growth of listening via voice-activated connected audio devices in recent years, UK radio is increasingly operating in an environment occupied by competing services with larger platforms and the ability to drive audiences elsewhere. The Bill will ensure that these platforms do not charge UK radio stations for providing their live services to listeners, that media cannot overlay content (such as advertising) on top of those services and that stations are reliably paid in response. Audience voice commands will enable broadcasters to request a default route for their stations to reach audiences.
More background on radio regulation changes
The commercial radio industry is governed by legislation developed in the late 1980s, which needs to be updated as it transitions from its analogue past to a digital future. The Government launched a consultation on the deregulation of analogue commercial radio licensing in February 2017.
The Act provides for that consultation, relaxing content and format requirements on commercial radio. This gives stations much more flexibility to update or adapt their services without Ofcom’s consent, thereby reducing the regulatory burden and costs of the sector. The reforms will replace requirements based on commitments made in license applications (20 or 30 years ago in some cases) with new, clearer requirements to reflect the importance of commercial stations in providing national and local news and relevant local information (traffic and travel). And value this service to the public. The reforms also include additional provisions to help manage radio’s eventual switch to digital and enable Ofcom to license foreign radio stations.
More background on new public service remits for TV.
The draft bill replaces the old purposes and objectives for UK PSBs, set out in the Communications Act 2003 and their licences, with a new remit more suited to the digital age.
This will allow them to focus on the content they are uniquely positioned to deliver, which, if not shown – will leave the UK as a nation poorer – culturally, economically and democratically. This includes public service children’s programming and programs produced by independent producers or outside London.
PSBs will be given greater flexibility in how their obligations are delivered, making it easier to share distinctively British programming and neutral news with audiences on various platforms, including on-demand services. Online programming will now count not only on linear TV channels but also on meeting their public service remit today. Ofcom will have new powers, where appropriate and proportionate, to require PSBs to provide a particular type of programming if audiences are underserved.
More background on precedence rules
The leading online TV platforms used by many UK viewers – such as smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks – will be legally required, and on-demand platforms such as BBC iPlayer, and ITVX to carry specific PSB services. Click and STV Player for All 4, My5, and S4C. This will help ensure that finding distinctly British programming will be easier as online continues to shift, and UK audiences can easily find valuable content when they turn on their TV.
More Background on Content Standards for Video-On-Demand Programming
According to Ofcom, young adults watch about seven times less broadcast TV than those aged 65 and over. Nine in ten adults aged 18-24 bypass TV channels directly to streaming services.
Ofcom notes that one in five UK households, or 5.2 million homes, sign up to the three most popular streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+. But most video-on-demand services do not fall under Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, which sets content standards for harmful, offensive and inappropriate content on television. Some services in the UK need to be regulated.
More background on the event regime listed
The listed events system – which helps ensure that events of national interest are available to watch live and free of charge to the largest possible audience – will be updated to depend on eligibility for access to air and a PSB. The events listed include major sporting events such as the Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, FA Cup Final, Grand National and Wimbledon Final. This will mean that PSBs will continue to benefit from the regime in the future, and audiences will be able to access these events free of charge.
The Secretary of Culture sets the listed events. Once listed, the rights to broadcast these events must be made available for purchase to ‘eligible broadcasters’ – those that reach 95 per cent coverage of the UK audience and at no extra cost to the viewer other than license fees. Free-to-air terrestrial PSBs operate all currently eligible services.
DCMS continues to review whether it should be included digital rights in the listed event regime. More details of the review will be set in due course.