Netflix and Amazon must follow same rules as BBC: Culture Secretary says Ofcom will ‘level playing the field’ by forcing streaming giants to curb product placement, ban harmful content and introduce complaints system
- Government will consult on Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ regulation rules
- It says it wants to ‘level the playing field’ between them and the BBC
- Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said UK broadcasters ‘holding their own’
- But added they cannot compete in ‘digital world operating under analogue rules’
- The new measures could hit product placement on the streaming giants
Regulation of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ could be on the way to help traditional broadcasters from having to ‘compete with one hand behind their backs’ – and potentially curb product placement.
The Government has announced it will consult on whether rules governing online platforms – so they are subject to similar rules as linear channels including the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky – needs ‘strengthening’.
It will consider whether new rules around impartiality and accuracy are needed for documentaries and news content to ‘level the playing field’ with broadcasters, who are regulated by the watchdog Ofcom.
The rules could also hit some of the streamers’ product placement deals, which give big companies screen time within shows.
Ofcom rules state shows have to clearly illustrate a letter P before programmes featuring such advertising.
Product placement in streamers’ programmes have become a hot topic in recent years as many like Netflix and Disney + do not feature advertising breaks.
Marketing agency BEN in January revealed which firms and brands it had found homes for within programmes.
It included computing behemoths Microsoft within Netflix’s teen thriller Elite and security business ADT on Million Dollar Beach House.
Elsewhere it said it had got cereal Honey Nut Cheerios onto Disney +’s Clouds.
Stranger Things, Netflix’s huge smash show, features copious references to Coke but this is not paid for and just part of the time-setting of the series.
Stranger Things, Netflix’s huge smash show, features references to Coke, but is not paid for
Microsoft is shown heavily within Netflix’s teen thriller Elite as part of product placement
Security business ADT on Million Dollar Beach House is another firm featured on a show
Marketing firm BEN said it had placed Honey Nut Cheerios in Disney+’s programme Clouds
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said UK broadcasters are ‘holding their own’ and cited the success of the BBC’s I May Destroy You and Channel 4’s Its A Sin, but added: ‘Our broadcasters can’t do it alone and they certainly can’t compete in a digital world while operating under analogue rules.
‘So in the autumn I plan to bring forward a white paper on the future of broadcasting, and how we can make it fit for the 21st century.
‘First we need to level the playing field and address one blatant disparity forcing traditional broadcasters to compete with one hand tied behind their backs. Every ‘linear’ broadcaster — BBC, Sky and so on — has to comply with stringent content and audience protection standards.
‘You might assume the same is true of video-on-demand services such as Amazon Prime and Disney+. You’d be wrong.’
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said traditional broadcasters ‘can’t compete in digital world’
Netflix produce a significant number of shows in the UK, including Sex Education, pictured
Amazon has made Clarkson’s Farm in the UK and has been a huge hit for the streaming giant
Mr Dowden said some services, such as Netflix, have introduced their own procedures, but added this is ‘ad-hoc and inconsistent’.
He continued: ‘This summer we will consult on whether it’s time to set the same basic rules for video-on-demand services as we do for traditional broadcasters.’
At present, Ofcom regulates British broadcasters, but streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, which are international companies, do not fall under its remit.
And it is unclear how the rules would be imposed on companies like Netflix, who European headquarters are in Amsterdam.
Both produce a significant number of shows in the UK, including Sex Education on Netflix and Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon.
Earlier this year Disney+ also announced plans to create original content in the UK, across drama, comedy and unscripted.
The Government review will also consider the privatisation of Channel 4.
The channel has been owned by the Government since its launch in 1982 and receives its funding from advertising.
The broadcaster, which boasts Great British Bake Off, Gogglebox and SAS: Who Dares Wins among its biggest shows, was originally set up to deliver to under-served audiences.
Government launches bid to privatise Channel 4 as channel’s chairman says ‘big American conglomerates’ will move in if it is sold off
The Government is to launch a consultation into the privatisation of Channel 4 after months of tensions between No 10 and executives at the television station over its struggling finances and allegedly ‘woke’ agenda.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced the move on Wednesday after bosses at the broadcaster were quizzed on the issue by MPs on the previous day.
The consultation will also review regulation of streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, who have been snaffling more TV advertising from the British terrestrial broadcaster.
Channel 4, launched in 1982, is a Government-owned but commercially funded public service broadcaster, with a remit to broadcast ‘diverse, alternative and challenging programming that appeals to a younger audience’.
One example of such output was the much criticised spoof Queen’s Christmas Day speech, with jibes aimed at Harry and Meghan and Prince Andrew, which was branded ‘woke rubbish’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘mean-spirited’ by viewers.
But supporters of Channel 4 has suggested that the sale comes after repeated attacks from senior Tories who consider their output left-wing, and suggest the process is politically-motivated to stifle a critical voice of the Government.
Channel 4 has also come under repeated attacks from Conservatives who complain that some of its output is biased against the Tories, leading to suspicions that there is a political motivation to the government’s move.
The Government is to launch a consultation into the privatisation of Channel 4
Moving Channel 4 into private ownership and changing its remit could ensure its ‘future success and sustainability’, the DCMS said in a statement.
How Channel 4 was set up in 1982 by Mrs Thatcher and is 100% owned by the taxpayer
Channel 4 launched in 1982, to provide a fourth television service to Britain, alongside BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. It has been funded by advertising and sponsorship deals since the outset.
It made its debut with an episode of Countdown, presented by Carol Vorderman and Richard Whiteley and has become known for its left-leaning coverage, programming for young people and ‘property porn’ shows such as Grand Designs and Location, Location, Location.
It is also home of the Great British Bake Off and known for its groundbreaking drama, most recently: It’s A Sin.
Channel 4 is commercially funded. It raised revenues of £985million in 2019, but a pre-tax loss of £26million.
The process will be overseen by Media Minister John Whittingdale, who advocated privatisation of Channel 4 as long ago as 1996.
Selling Channel 4 could be seen as something of an easy win for the Government, as it seeks to find new savings.
The taxpayer has a 100 per cent shareholding in Channel 4 but relatively few viewers are even aware that it is state-owned.
It will consider whether new rules around impartiality and accuracy are needed for documentaries and news content on the platforms to ‘level the playing field’ with broadcasters, who are regulated by the watchdog Ofcom.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age.
‘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.
‘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.’
But Sir David Attenborough has called for an end to ‘short-sighted political and financial attacks’ on public service broadcasters as ministers begin moves towards privatising Channel 4.
The 95-year-old presenter has given his backing to a campaign group which has warned that ministers should not try to ‘diminish’ these broadcasters.
The Government will today reveal details of a consultation on the sale of Channel 4.
Sir David’s name has been added to a group of public figures that have backed an open letter sent to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.
Other names understood to have signed include Sir Lenny Henry, Sir Salman Rushdie, Lord Mandelson and actor Adrian Lester.
The group, called British Broadcasting Challenge, argue in the letter that ‘public service principles’ are ‘under severe threat’ not just from streaming services and big tech companies but also from the Government.
Channel 4 chair Charles Gurassa told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday that ‘big American conglomerates’ would be among the potential investors in Channel 4 if it was to be privatised
Yesterday Alex Mahon, chief executive of Channel 4, appearing in front of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said her station ‘would be making a different set of shows with a different set of priorities if we were run commercially’.
The broadcaster’s chairman, Charles Gurassa, told MPs that ‘big American conglomerates’ would be among the potential investors in Channel 4 if it were to be privatised.
But Channel 4 came under fire yesterday for handing out large pay rises for senior executives at the broadcaster as it was cutting production budgets during the Covid-19 crisis.
Channel 4 boss Miss Mahon saw her total pay jump from £943,000 in 2019 to £991,000 in 2020. Director of programmes Ian Katz had total pay of £536,000, up from £528,000.
Mr Dowden will today reveal the plans for a potential sale of Channel 4 to ‘ensure its future success and sustainability’.
Ministers believe the move ‘could help secure its future as a successful and sustainable public service broadcaster’.
As part of today’s announcement the Government will also reveal that streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video face being subject to the same tough broadcasting rules as traditional TV channels.
The ambitious plans by Government are an attempt to ‘level the playing field’ between traditional UK broadcasters and US streaming giants.
As part of a ‘strategic review’ it will consider ‘tightening regulation’ of these video-on-demand services, which also include Disney+.
It is understood this could see Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, which governs linear TV channels and the BBC iPlayer, applied to all online broadcasters including the powerful US streaming giants.
The move would represent a huge change for these online services, which are subject to significantly more lenient rules than the traditional broadcasters like the BBC.
It could also open up the prospect of companies like Netflix facing fines imposed on them by Ofcom, or being asked to publish findings against them.
It comes after Netflix was the centre of a huge row over the treatment of certain members of the Royal Family in the most recent series of The Crown.
A Whitehall source said: ‘It’s about levelling the playing field with broadcasters – if we think content and audience protection standards are important for broadcasters we should want these to apply equally to other platforms watched in an increasingly similar way too.’
Mr Dowden said: ‘Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age.’
SNP MP John Nicolson told the C4 bosses at the committee that to most people these top salary levels would seem ‘obscene’ and were ‘absurdly large’.
He said: ‘I sometimes think listening to TV executives at these hearings, that they live in a parallel universe.’
Before the meeting Channel 4 chair Charles Gurassa had told journalists that these top bosses had been given ‘maximum bonuses’ as a result of their ‘stellar performance’.
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