UK publishes draft Media Bill to help public broadcasters compete with streamers

It marks the next step in the government’s plan to modernise decades-old broadcasting legislation outlined in a white paper last year

By Priyanca Rajput 29 Mar 2023

UK publishes draft Media Bill to help public broadcasters compete with streamers

The UK government has published its draft Media Bill outlining plans to bring Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ under new Ofcom rules, and to ensure public service broadcasters’ on-demand services are more discoverable. 

Britain’s broadcasting giants including BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV and S4C will receive new privileges to make more popular shows and better compete with global streaming giants under new draft legislation published yesterday (March 28).

The draft Media Bill will enable public service broadcasters (PSBs) to grow their potential and invest in new technologies to keep viewers tuning in amid rising competition from subscription-based online platforms.

It marks the next step in the government’s plan to modernise decades-old broadcasting legislation outlined in a white paper last year. New reforms have also been added to protect the position of UK radio on smart speakers as listeners increasingly move away from AM and FM stations in favour of internet-based services.

Smart speaker platforms - such as Google and Amazon - will be required by law to ensure access to all licenced UK radio stations, from major national stations to the smallest community stations. Platforms will be banned from charging stations for being hosted on their services or overlaying their own adverts over the top of those stations’ programmes.

The Bill will also reduce regulatory burdens on commercial radio stations, relaxing content and format requirements developed in the 1980s which tie them to commitments to broadcast particular genres of music or to particular age groups. The new regime will give stations more flexibility to update or adapt their services without needing consent from Ofcom. The reduced bureaucracy these changes will deliver could save the radio industry up to £1m per year.

TV-focused measures include bringing mainstream video-on-demand (VoD) services in the UK - such as Netflix and Disney+ - under a new Ofcom content code, to protect audiences from a wider range of harmful material - such as misleading health claims. The latest research from Ofcom indicates that traditional ‘linear’ TV viewing - where viewers watch programmes broadcast at a scheduled time usually via terrestrial or satellite - is down more than 25% since 2011, and 68% among 16-24s.

It will also ensure video on demand viewers can more easily discover public service broadcast services such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks. It also includes new rules to make video on demand content more accessible to those with seeing and hearing impairments.

Culture secretary Lucy Frazer said: “These new laws will level the playing field with global streaming giants, ensuring they meet the same high standards we expect from public service broadcasters and that services like iPlayer and ITVX are easy to find however you watch TV.

“Our Bill will give these brilliant broadcasters and our legendary radio industry the tools to keep doing what they do best - nurturing the creative talent and skills that fuel the UK’s booming production industry, whilst making outstanding shows that we can all enjoy.“

The new laws will introduce simpler, more flexible rules on what TV programmes public service broadcasters are required to show, meaning these broadcasters - who commission around £1.2bn in programming each year, with almost all of it spent in the UK - will be better equipped to adapt to changing viewer habits as people increasingly watch TV on digital devices instead of traditional 'linear’ TV.

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