The government in the United Kingdom has published its Draft Media Bill to reform the legal framework of public service broadcasting, extend regulation for on-demand programmes and revise radio regulation. Among its provisions are plans to provide for the continuing prominence of public service programming and ensure that radio services can be accessed easily online.
“Technology has revolutionised the way people enjoy TV and radio,” Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said in a statement. “The battle to attract and retain audiences has never been fiercer. British content and production are world leading but changes to viewing habits have put traditional broadcasters under unprecedented pressure. These new laws will level the playing field with global streaming giants, ensuring they meet the same high standards we expect from public service broadcasters and that services like iPlayer, All4 and ITVX are easy to find however you watch TV.”
At the same time as publishing the draft bill, the Culture Secretary approved the renewal of licences for Channel 3 and Channel 4, without any change to their public service remit. She said this would complement the government’s decision to facilitate the renewal of the five national digital terrestrial television multiplex licences until 2034, providing stability and certainty to public service broadcasters about the future of their services, and the benefits they receive, including prominence on electronic programme guides and reserved capacity on the digital terrestrial television platform.
The draft bill aims to update and simplify the current public service remit for television, including allowing online provision to contribute to its fulfilment.
The provision for prominence of designated public services will be extended to their online services, including those delivered live and on demand.
Channel 4 will be allowed to make and own its own programmes, although it will not be required to do so, and plans to privatise the state-owned broadcaster have been dropped.
A new video-on-demand code will apply similar standards to television-style programming on major online video services, including those like Netflix that are licensed outside the United Kingdom.
There will be some relaxation of the regulation of radio services, with provisions to ensure that they are freely accessible online and through voice-controlled platforms.
Although the government white paper promised to review the regime for listed events of national interest, following as a public consultation, the only changes are to extend the definition of qualifying services to include online delivery and to restrict them to those provided by a public service broadcaster.
A key provision for consumers is concerned with the prominence of public services on what are now termed television selection services, a definition that could include channel lists, electronic programme guides, or the home screens of television platforms.
The national communications regulator Ofcom will be able to designate certain internet programme services that will benefit from prominence and availability requirements.
The proposals define a television selection service, provided by means of the internet and in connection with internet television equipment, which presents programme services or programmes provided by those services to a user, and allows them to select between those services and programmes and to access them. For example, a user can select between on-demand apps, or between programmes provided by those apps on a user interface on a smart television.
Certain television selection services may be regulated, including those of pay television operators, smart televisions, and connected television devices, such as streaming sticks and media players.
A public service broadcaster will be obliged to offer a designated internet programme service to a regulated television selection service, subject to negotiating commercial arrangements that provide for appropriate prominence.
A regulated television selection service will be obliged to carry all designated internet programme services and provide an appropriate degree of prominence. They will also be required to ensure that their user interfaces are accessible for those with disabilities, particularly those affecting sight or hearing.
The regulator, Ofcom, is required to maintain a code of practice and there are provisions for how any disputes will be handled, including enforcement penalties.
The draft bill also introduces a new category of ‘Tier 1’ on-demand programme services, including those based outside the United Kingdom, like Netflix. These will be subject to increased regulation and audience protection measures, with a new video-on-demand code of standards aligned to the broadcasting code, including support for access services such as subtitles on 80% of programmes, audio description on 10%, and signing on 5%.
There are changes to the regulation of radio services, relaxing some requirements, while introducing a new category of regulated radio selection services, relating to voice-activated smart speakers and similar devices.
This imposes a requirement on designated platforms to ensure that listeners can select and access BBC and United Kingdom radio stations licenced by Ofcom that are carried on the internet. Companies such as Google and Amazon will be prevented from charging stations for being hosted on their platforms or including their own adverts over the top of programmes.
The Draft Media Bill is published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and is available from the government web site.