Government plans to “level up Britain’s screens” with new streaming regulations
James R | On 23, Jun 2021
The UK government is planning to “level up Britain’s screens” with new regulations on streaming services.
“Traditional viewing habits are dead,” declared culture secretary Oliver Dowden today, announcing that the government wants Ofcom to expand its remit to include regulation of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and more.
Dowden acknowledged that “UK broadcasters are holding their own” against online competition, but also claimed that “traditional broadcasters [are forced] to compete with one hand tied behind their backs”, with linear broadcasters having to comply with content and audience protection standards.
Dowden also acknowledged Netflix’s voluntary age ratings partnership with the BBFC. But he also announced plans to propose ways to give public service broadcasts “sufficient visibility” on different online platforms.
These proposals haven’t yet been unveiled – a white paper consultation will be published in the autumn – but how any such measures would be possible hasn’t been made clear either, given that many streamers are outside of Ofcom’s jurisdiction (Netflix’s EMEA headquarters are in the Netherlands, while Disney’s European headquarters are in Paris).
Part of the proposals have been hinted at, though, with Dowden placing particular emphasis on CHannel 4’s “long-term future”. Channel 4 was set up in 1982 “as a publicly-owned, commercially-run station to provide greater choice”. With choice now no longer an issue, due to the plethora of options online and on-air, the government is using that a springboard to open up questions about privatising Channel 4.
The current model “severely restricts Channel 4’s ability to access capital and compete with commercial broadcasters”, said Dowden. Channel 4’s annual report, published this week, meanwhile, shows that the company has enjoyed a strong year, with 2021 seeing record streaming and linear success.
By investing in All 4 and prioritising digital growth Channel 4 delivered streaming growth of 26 per cent in 2020 to hit more than 1.25 billion views while linear share grew by 3 per cent on Channel 4. Digital advertising revenues increased by 11 per cent in 2020, while 2021 has seen “continued growth” in streaming and linear viewing, with total corporation revenue expected to exceed £1 billion in 2021 for the first time ever – enabling increased content spend for 2021 and 2022 by an extra £40 million.
“In a vitally important year for the future of public service broadcasting as both Government and Ofcom undertake reviews of the sector, these results underline the strength, popularity and sustainability of Channel 4,” said Channel 4 Chair, Charles Gurassa.