Streaming devices like Smart TVs and Amazon’s Fire TV will have to give the UK’s public broadcasters’ apps (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and others) a preferential treatment and better prominence, according to new government proposals.
In addition, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport is proposing that streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ will be regulated by Ofcom, and will have to abide by its Broadcasting Code.
Subscribers to these services will be able to complain to Ofcom when they see something they don’t like, with Ofcom having enforcement powers, similar to those they currently have over the Public Service Broadcasters.
Furthermore, the government is also planning to go ahead with the privatisation of Channel 4.
These proposals were published this week by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and the DCMS, in a white paper that aims “to create new golden age of British TV and help nation’s public service broadcasters thrive.”
Streaming Devices Forced To Promote PSBs
As it stands now, the first five channels available to the public on the UK’s TV platforms are reserved – by law – to the Public Service Broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and STV / S4C.
Therefore, on every platform – whether Freeview, Freesat or the pay-TV services like Sky TV and Virgin Media, you will find BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV (or STV in Scotland), Channel 4 (or S4C in Wales) and Channel 5.
This is meant to ensure that “public service content is readily available to as wide an audience as possible and easy to find”.
However, the rules do not currently extend to on-demand platforms and streaming devices, which don’t usually have a traditional “TV Channels Guide”, with more and more viewers switching to these platforms.
In fact, some streaming devices (either Smart TVs or streaming sticks from companies like Amazon and Roku) reportedly get paid to give specific streaming services and apps more prominence.
In recent years, for example, both Roku and Amazon Firesticks have added shortcut buttons to their remotes, that take you to services such as Netflix and Disney+, with companies paying for that sort of promotion.
Furthermore, streaming devices that are created by companies that also have their own streaming service – such as Apple TV with its Apple TV+ and Amazon Fire TV with Prime Video, often give prominence to their own content on these devices’ main home screens.
According to the government, “PSBs are finding it increasingly difficult to secure their presence on global platforms, maintain their prominence on them and secure fair value for the services they provide.”
Therefore, they propose:
“The government will update ‘prominence’ rules so popular online TV platforms, which likely include smart TVs, pay-TV services, streaming sticks and set-top boxes, are legally required to carry designated PSB on-demand services and give them prominence, as determined by Ofcom, so they are easy to find on user interfaces in the future.”
The rules will require public broadcasters to “offer” their on-demand services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5, STV Player, S4C Clic) to platforms while requiring platforms to “carry” these PSB on-demand services.
Ofcom will be given new enforcement powers, including information gathering powers and the ability to impose fines as appropriate.
It will be given a dispute resolution function to intervene to support effective negotiations between platforms and PSBs.
As it stands, the Big Five streaming apps are already available on all the major streaming devices – but they’re not usually given extra prominence.
It remains to be seen, once the government proceeds with this legislation, what these “prominence” rules are going to look like.
Will streaming device platforms have to ‘stick’ BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and the rest at the top of their main screen? Will they have to be pre-installed on every streaming device sold in the UK?
We’ll have to wait and see.