Wednesday 23 June 2021 12:01 am

UK targets Netflix and Channel 4 with new streaming rules

The government is plotting an overhaul of the UK broadcasting landscape in a move that could place tightened regulations on US streaming giants such as Netflix.

Ministers will carry out a review of rules for video on-demand platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus in an effort to protect viewers and boost public service broadcasters.

The government today also confirmed it will consult on a potential deal to privatise Channel 4.

The plans, which form part of a wider review of the UK broadcasting landscape, are designed to update current rules — which are almost two decades old — for the modern streaming age.

Video on-demand platforms available in the UK are not regulated to the same extent as traditional broadcast channels, while some services including Netflix and Apple TV Plus are not regulated at all.

Ministers will consult on whether to strengthen streaming rules to match those faced by the BBC, ITV and Sky.

They will also consider whether new regulations are needed to protect viewers, such as age ratings and impartiality and accuracy rules for documentaries and news content.

Other measures aimed at levelling the playing field will be considered, including tougher rules requiring tech companies to display public service broadcaster apps prominently on their platforms.

The government said its consultation into a sale of Channel 4 would consider whether moving it into public ownership and changing its remit would ensure its long-term success in the streaming age.

“Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age,” said culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

“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.”

The plans will come as a boost to UK public service broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV, which have long called for new rules to allow fair competition with streaming rivals.

But Channel 4 boss Alex Mahon yesterday hit back at plans to privatise her company, warning against any “irreversible” decision that could damage the wider production sector.

The broadcaster, which last year reported a record surplus of £74m, has insisted it is in a strong financial position.

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, media minister John Whittingale said the plans were “about the longer term… it isn’t about the performance over the course of the last year or indeed the coming year”.

The consultations will come ahead of a broadcasting white paper due to be published this autumn.