Streaming giants face a reckoning as the UK government plans to regulate companies in the same way as traditional broadcasters like the BBC and ITV. Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Netflix could all be affected under plans set to be announced next week, the Press Association first reported. Britain's media watchdog Ofcom would be allowed to rule on complaints relating to issues including bias and accuracy similar to its oversight of more traditional broadcasters if the proposal is approved.
The rise of streaming platforms has put public service broadcasters (PSBs) under more pressure from streaming giants that have large budgets for original productions and a rising number of young subscribers. Under plans to be published next week, media watchdog Ofcom would extend the same control over on-demand services, meaning it could rule on complaints relating to issues including bias and inaccuracy. The UK's culture secretary Oliver Dowden is set to reveal the plans in a broadcasting white paper. Dowden had previously questioned the future of public service broadcaster and has said it is time to "ask really profound questions" over the role PSBs play in the current media landscape.
This led John Whittingdale, the minister for media and data, to question why streamers are not held to the same standards as traditional broadcasters during a Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) select committee meeting. This question appears to have been answered by Dowden, who is now set to increase scrutiny on the operations of streamers.
A report in The Telegraph quoted a government source as saying: “UK broadcasters are having to compete with these giants with one hand tied behind their backs. The companies have deep pockets and go largely unregulated, leaving them free to impose their interpretation of British life. With the pace of change and the increase in global competition, the culture secretary [Oliver Dowden] feels it is time to look at how we can level the playing field between broadcasters and video-on-demand services and make sure the UK’s broadcasting landscape is fit for the 21st century.”
Last year, Netflix faced criticism from Dowden over scenes in the drama series "The Crown", which contained historical inaccuracies. Currently, the Ofcom website contains a statement clarifying that “Netflix is based in the Netherlands and therefore not within Ofcom’s jurisdiction”. It advises viewers who have complaints about the streaming service’s content to “contact Netflix directly” or to contact the Dutch Media Authority, the Commissariaat voor de Media.
Streaming services rose in popularity during the pandemic, gaining millions of new subscribers as people were forced to stay home. Netflix added a record 15.8 million users as the pandemic forced people around the world to stay home. The world's largest streaming provider said in April that the slower production of TV shows and movies during the pandemic hurt subscriber growth in the first quarter. Netflix's new US subscribers fell to 8.5% during the three months to March this year, down from 16.2% the same period a year ago. It gained 1.8 million new customers in Europe, 1.36 million in Asia, and 360,000 in Latin America in Q1.
Amazon bought legendary Hollywood studio MGM in an $8.5bn deal in May, in the company's second-largest takeover deal ever. The move cements the tech giant's place in the streaming battleground with rivals like Disney+ and Apple TV+, which both launched in 2019 in the UK. The deal means Amazon now owns rights to a library of over 4,000 film blockbusters including the "James Bond" franchise, "Rocky", and the "Pink Panther". MGM has also produced hit TV shows including "A Handmaid's Tale", "Fargo", and "Vikings". Amazon first entered the content market in the late 2000s but has massively expanded its Prime video streaming service in the last five years. It has since become the world's second-largest streaming service, with around 175 million customers.