The Draft Media Bill (the “Bill”) published on 29 March 2023 will implement the Government’s plans to modernise broadcasting legislation and introduce wide-ranging reforms to the regulatory environment for public service broadcasters (“PSBs”) and, more broadly, video-on-demand (“VOD”) services. The Bill follows a White Paper published in April 2022 which had set out the proposals for reform and noted that the wealth of choice being offered by streaming platforms, as well as the revolution in technology that has enabled those platforms, placed pressure on traditional broadcasters competing for the attention of viewers.
The Bill is broken down into six substantive parts:
Part 1 gives PSBs more flexibility in how they contribute to the public service remit and their fulfilment of particular quotas (for example, the requirement for a minimum proportion of programming to be commissioned from independent producers).
Part 2 updates the PSB prominence regime by creating a concept of “television selection services”, ensuring that PSBs’ online services enjoy a similar privileged position on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks to PSBs’ live channels.
Part 3 focuses on Channel 4 and, most notably, removes the restriction on C4 being able to produce content.
Part 4 aims to bring the regulation of content on VOD services closer to the traditional linear regime that is set out in OFCOM’s Broadcasting Code. The Bill gives OFCOM powers to draft and enforce a new Video-on-Demand Standards Code. Like the Broadcasting Code, the Video-on-Demand Code will impose standards for harmful or offensive material, due accuracy in news, fairness and privacy. All VOD services being used by PSBs (excluding the BBC) to fulfil their public service remits will be subject to the new Video-on-Demand Code and further regulations will specify a description of other VOD services that will be required to comply. In a big shift from the existing regime, for the first time Ofcom will be given the power to regulate the “largest, most TV-like VOD services” even if they are not established in the UK.
Part 5 modernises the framework that applies to radio licensing, simplifying OFCOM’s duties surrounding the genre and geographical origin of content.
Part 6 will regulate commercial relationships between radio stations and radio selection services (online platforms used by listeners to access different stations – a concept similar to the television selection services that are dealt with in Part 2), including to ensure that platforms cannot charge to distribute live UK radio services.
Our team is monitoring the developments closely and can help affected business to understand and engage with the legislative process. This will be critical to ensuring the new regulatory framework is proportionate, future-proofed and protects both innovation and the benefits of public service broadcasting. Get in touch to discuss your perspective and how you can engage.
Authored by Oliver Wilson, Telha Arshad, and Johari Adjei.