BBC’s New Plan Will Shake Up Every Streaming Device

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Picture this: a new button on every streaming device’s remote (in the UK), exclusively for BBC iPlayer. That’s the game-changing idea BBC is proposing as it aims to modernise and stay relevant in today’s digital age.

The request is part of a broader push to adjust to the shifting dynamics of the streaming world, ensuring Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) aren’t sidelined as global tech giants assert their dominance.

However, it’s not just about an iPlayer button. This proposal could trigger a significant shake-up of the UK’s media industry, underlining the need for fair competition and recognising the value of public service broadcasting.

Traditionally, the first five channels available on the UK’s TV platforms are legally reserved for Public Service Broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, and STV/S4C.

Humax Aura EPG filter

This ensures that the public service content is readily available to as wide an audience as possible. However, with the rise of streaming platforms and devices, this model has been challenged.

Streaming devices and platforms don’t typically have a traditional TV channel guide, and often, specific streaming services pay for more prominent app positions.

Furthermore, companies that have their own streaming service, like Apple with Apple TV+ and Amazon with Prime Video, often give prominence to their own content on these devices’ home screens.

And then there’s the hardware itself – on streaming devices like Amazon’s Fire TV and Roku, you’ll often find shortcut keys to specific streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and of course – Amazon’s own Prime Video.

New Fire TV remote in hand
Fire TV Remote

Companies often pay the hardware manufacturers for these promotional shortcut buttons – and the BBC doesn’t want to get left behind.

Drawing from their ongoing experience with linear TV, the BBC highlights that the vagueness of the term “appropriate prominence” often stokes conflict during negotiations, and worst of all, leads to failing audience expectations.

They cite the example of CBBC and CBeebies, two popular children’s channels, which, despite being favoured by 72% of parents to be at the top of the channel menu, appear on the second page of Sky’s children’s Electronic Program Guide (EPG), trailing behind Sky’s own channels.

Sky Glass TV Guide
Freeview On Sky Glass

The situation could get even trickier with more international tech companies joining the media market. These newcomers, focused on spreading their influence worldwide, usually aren’t too concerned about supporting UK’s public TV and radio services.

Plus, there’s a growing trend where big companies can pay to have their own content more visible to viewers. The BBC suggests that clear rules need to be set to ensure everyone gets a fair shot and audiences get what they want.

BBC iPlayer Button On Every Device?

In a bid to modernize its reach and remain relevant amidst rapid digital transformation, the BBC has made an ambitious proposal this week.

If approved, the new regulation would see a shortcut button dedicated to BBC iPlayer showing up on, potentially, the remote of every streaming device sold in the UK (assuming that remote even has shortcut buttons).

BBC iPlayer loading on TV

However, this move goes beyond just a button, potentially triggering a significant overhaul of the UK’s media landscape.

The proposal was part of the BBC’s wider submission to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Committee.

The crux of this submission was the Draft Media Bill, a piece of proposed legislation designed to revamp the nation’s media industry, with a specific focus on the ever-growing digital environment.

The primary legislation proposed by the BBC intends to make Public Service Broadcasting services and their content, among the most prominent (and accessible) options on user interfaces of streaming devices and some 3rd party streaming apps.

This applies to various access routes, such as homepages, app pages, search, and even voice search functionality.

So while the BBC agrees that TV-based services, such as iPlayer, should not directly compete with non-TV platforms like WhatsApp or Gmail on smartphones and tablets, it advocates for a broader perspective.

Fire HD 8 BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer

The BBC suggests that freestanding TV apps boasting a substantial number of UK users should be considered within the new regulatory regime as well, regardless of the device used for access.

This would include popular TV aggregators like TVPlayer or Sky Go, which enable users to catch their favourite shows on mobile devices, tablets, or laptops. In other words – when you’re using one of those apps, the BBC (and the other PSBs) should still get a prominent place.

With that, and by featuring an iPlayer button on streaming device remotes, the BBC aims to make its content easier to find and more accessible to audiences.

Although this move could be interpreted as the BBC seeking an advantage, it’s more about striking a balance.

The BBC aims to counter the growing dominance of global tech giants like Amazon and Google in the media space, advocating for a media ecosystem where both global and local players can reach audiences effectively.

BBC iPlayer Netflix Apple TV Plus

In response, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told The Times that remote controls are not in the scope of the Media Bill, but they will make sure public broadcasters’ services are shown prominently on streaming devices and Smart TVs.

Last year, I asked Amazon’s Vice President for Entertainment Devices and Services, Daniel Rausch, about this very thing. In addition to mentioning that the Public Broadcasters are “great partners”, he made a point of saying that “Fire TV already shows the BBC and ITV hub in the application tray.

“They’re already very prominent in our interface, so we’ll have to wait and see if there’s anything additional, but we’re really glad about our relationships with them today.”

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