BBC Wants To Fine Streaming Devices That Don’t Feature iPlayer

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Streaming sticks and Smart TVs that don’t feature BBC iPlayer prominently should be fined, according to newly published proposals from the BBC.

According to the broadcaster, many tech companies already prefer their own streaming services – or those who pay them – over the BBC and other UK public broadcasters.

Therefore, legislation should force TV and streaming stick manufacturers to give UK broadcasters prominence – or risk a fine of £250,000 or more.

Couple watching smart tv


This proposal, along with several others, came as part of the BBC’s response to a recent Ofcom consultation that is looking at the future of public service media in the UK.

The Ofcom consultation, named “Small Screen: Big Debate”, launched in December 2020, and looks at “how to strengthen and maintain public service media in the UK for the next decade and beyond”.

Yesterday, the BBC published its response to the consultation, with several proposals relating to the TV licence fee and BBC funding, exciting news about a Freeview all-in-one app, the role of public broadcasters – and their prominence on streaming devices, now and in the future.

According to the BBC’s research data, over 90% of UK adults and 80% of younger people use the BBC on average per week, rising to 97% and 93% per month respectively.

In addition, 73% of UK adults (and 69% of 18 to 34s) think that BBC One “shows programmes that reflect the lives of people in the UK” whereas only 19% of adults (and 30% of 18 to 34 year olds) say the same about Netflix.

BBC iPlayer vs Netflix
BBC vs Netflix

Therefore, it’s important to keep the BBC universal and available to everyone in the UK. But availability is facing issues – due to the prominence of streaming devices and Smart TVs.

BBC iPlayer Losing It Place On Streaming Devices

For years, TV manufacturers had to give the Public Service Broadcasters (such as BBC, ITV and Channel 4) prominent positions on the channels list, via services like Freeview, Freesat or the paid TV platforms like Sky and Virgin Media.

Therefore, the PSBs were always in the first 24 channel numbers, to make them easier to find.

But with more and more viewers ditching linear TV channels and moving to streaming devices like the Amazon Fire TV Stick, the Roku players and Smart TVs – linear channel numbers have started to become obsolete. 

Streaming Devices

And while all the major UK broadcasters already have their own streaming app – those apps aren’t always prominent on these streaming devices – and in some cases, aren’t even available. 

This is why the BBC is calling for urgent legislation, to force tech companies to feature Public Broadcaster’s apps in a prominent way.

“Availability rules are urgent”, says the BBC in its response to the consultation. “By 2023 as many as 60% to 80% of new TVs sold may have an operating system controlled by global tech companies with little interest in supporting national players.

“Platforms and smart TVs are already coming to market without PSB players (e.g. LG’s 2020 TV models). Legislation is needed to ensure that this does not become a regular occurrence in the UK market.

“As Ofcom notes, LG’s 2020 TV models launched in the UK without any of the PSB VOD apps. Our concern is that these trends continue and will result in an increasing number of devices that do not host PSB VOD players – or results in a system whereby PSBs have to accept disadvantageous terms that in the BBC’s case do not represent fair value for licence fee payers.”

(It’s interesting to note that, in perfect timing, it was announced this week that LG’s 2021 Smart TVs will support Freeview Play, which of course comes with BBC iPlayer and the other broadcasters’ apps).

According to the BBC, some of the streaming platforms already “strongly self-preference their own content and services”. (Amazon, for example, have their own Amazon Prime Video streaming service and Roku have “The Roku Channel”).

Fire TV new interface prime video peek
Amazon’s Fire TV Interface

Furthermore, some companies receive money from streaming and content providers in order to feature them more prominently in their streaming OS, or possibly as shortcut buttons on the device’s remote.

The solution, according to the BBC’s proposal, is to allow the public broadcasters to negotiate with the streaming device manufacturers (without further regulatory intervention), but to use the new rules as a backstop, in case those negotiations don’t go well, and to make sure the devices HAVE to carry the Public Broadcaster’s apps.

“These principles could be put into practice by a notification regime and enforced for example by way of fines for non-compliance. Ofcom should give serious consideration to what level of sanction would be effective.

“For example, a fine of 5% turnover or £250,000 whichever is higher would be in line with rules for today’s on-demand programme service providers (as provided for in the communications Act 2003).”

Ofcom is expected to give its recommendations to the government, following this consultation, in Summer 2021.

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