Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime to be regulated by Ofcom just like BBC

Streaming services including Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime will be regulated by Ofcom in the same way as the BBC and ITV, under plans announced by UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

The move would allow the media regulator to adjudicate over complaints about bias, accuracy and offence in shows screened by on-demand platforms.

Netflix which has more than ten million subscribers in the UK, is currently outside of Ofcom’s scope because the company is based in the Netherlands and subject to Dutch regulation.

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Rege-Jean Page as Simon Basset, Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton, in hit Netflix show Bridgerton. Picture: PA Photo/Netflix/Liam Daniel

It comes as the boss of Channel 4 warned privatising the network could do “irreversible damage” to the broadcaster’s mission to provide distinctive programming and support the UK’s creative industries.

Alex Mahon, Channel 4 chief executive, said the broadcaster would face pressure to cut its regional investment and nightly news commitment if it was sold off.

Mr Dowden confirmed the government’s intention to sell off the state-owned, commercially-funded broadcaster.

He said the rise of streaming platforms left Channel 4, launched in 1982, vulnerable to a decline in television advertising.

Last year Mr Dowden demanded that Netflix put a disclaimer on its hit drama The Crown, to make clear that its invented scenes were “fiction”.

The Netflix documentary Seaspiracy about the impact of commercial fishing, accused by experts of including “misleading claims”, could be investigated under the new rules.

Ministers want to curb the power of the tech giants, with their huge programming budgets, to help British broadcasters compete on a level-playing field.

The UK Government will also call on the streamers to introduce more consistent age ratings to protect children from potentially harmful content.

“The current landscape makes for an inconsistent, ad-hoc and potentially harmful gap in regulation between video-on-demand services alongside a potential competitive disadvantage between UK broadcasters and their internationally-funded online counterparts,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.

Ministers will ensure that the UK’s public service broadcasters will be given prominence on Smart TVs, so that viewers can find their catch-up services alongside the likes of Apple and Amazon Prime.

Mr Dowden said: “Technology has transformed broadcasting, but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age.

“The time has come to look at how we can unleash the potential of our public service broadcasters while also making sure viewers and listeners consuming content on new formats are served by a fair and well-functioning system.”

The reviews will come ahead of a broadcasting white paper due in the autumn, which will “consider the future of the country’s broadcasting landscape with the ultimate aim of making sure it serves listeners and viewers on all platforms and across the UK”.

Mr Dowden also confirmed his intention to explore privatisation of Channel 4. Moving the broadcaster into private ownership could “allow it to access new capital, create strategic partnerships, and reach international markets only available through the private sector”.

“Changes to the model may also allow Channel 4 to diversify its income streams, enable it to invest in new technology and produce new content and programming,” he said.

“This would better allow Channel 4 to compete and strengthen its role as a public service broadcaster and secure the long-term benefits it can bring to the creative industries and to audiences.”

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