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UK government eyes regulations on streaming services, Channel 4 sale

The UK government is undergoing consultations this summer looking into imposing regulations on U.S. streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime for the first time, and selling Channel 4. In ...
June 23, 2021

The UK government is undergoing consultations this summer looking into imposing regulations on U.S. streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime for the first time, and selling Channel 4.

In the fall, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport will bring forward a White Paper on the future of broadcasting. The White Paper will set out proposals on how to ensure public service broadcasters are given enough visibility on online platforms, and viewers can access original, high-quality British content.

The department’s plan was laid out on the UK government’s website on Wednesday (June 23) by Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital, culture, media & sport. Throughout the summer, Dowden said the department will consult on whether it’s time to set similar rules for VOD services that traditional broadcasters face.

“It’s a golden age for TV — and I want to keep it that way. But to do that, we need the healthiest broadcasting landscape: one that is diverse, free and pluralistic,” Dowden wrote. “One where streamers can keep churning out brilliant shows, while traditional public service broadcasters retain their place at the centre of the UK’s media ecosystem.”

Dowden said a blatant disparity to address is that traditional broadcasters like the BBC and Sky are forced to comply with strict content and audience protection standards that VOD services don’t need to meet. Dowden said some streamers have done an admirable job of introducing their own procedures, but that those exist on an ad-hoc and inconsistent basis.

He argued that traditional UK broadcasters can’t compete against digital streamers while operating under analogue rules.

Channel 4 sale

The department will also undergo consultations this summer on the sale of Channel 4.

Dowden suggested it’s time to change the channel’s public ownership model, arguing that the model restricts Channel 4′s ability to access capital and invest enough in technology and programming to compete with commercial broadcasters.

Dowden said he will proceed on the basis that an alternative ownership model that keeps its public service remit might be better for the broadcaster and for the UK, arguing private investment would lead to more content and jobs, and a more sustainable future for the channel.

But some groups have already spoken up in opposition to Channel 4′s potential sale.

Pact, the UK screen sector trade body representing independent production and distribution companies, argued the government’s plan to sell Channel 4 would damage small businesses across the country during a time of recovery and rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Channel 4 plays a critical role in the UK’s broadcasting ecology, investing in hundreds of independent production companies in nearly 40 years of its existence, also enabling and improving access, skills, international activity and diversity, Pact CEO John McVay┬ásaid in a statement on Wednesday.

“The channel is a thriving dynamic and successful public service broadcaster and a catalyst for generations of entrepreneurs,” McVay said.

“The current government’s thesis that bigger is always better is an archaic concept from an analogue past.”

McVay added that Channel 4′s profits are reinvested in hundreds of British companies who make high-quality, diverse British programs, and exploit their IP around the world to international audiences, bringing money back to the UK economy.

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