Media Bill to enshrine digital prominence and pave way for C4 in-house production
A draft Media Bill that cements PSB prominence in the digital age, hands Ofcom regulatory power over SVoDs and paves the way for in-house production at Channel 4 has been unveiled by DCMS.
Legislation outlined by culture secretary Lucy Frazer will modernise the “outdated” 2003 Communications Act by:
Ensuring the PSB on-demand services iPlayer, ITVX, All 4, My 5, S4C Clic and STV Player are easily discoverable on smart TVs and streaming sticks
Bringing services such as Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+ under a new Ofcom code that will allow the regulator to investigate and enforce standards, and protect audiences from harmful material
Allowing PSBs to satisfy their remit via online content, not just linear programming
Giving Ofcom additional powers to require PSBs to provide more of a particular type of programming if it feels audiences are being underserved
And paving the way for C4 to produce and own its own content – should it choose to do so.
The latter is arguably the most controversial measure in a bill that has been welcomed by the likes of ITV and Paramount (owner of Channel 5).
The draft bill also commits to raising the level of C4’s independent production quota, which will be done ‘via secondary legislation’, and DCMS said it will “continue to work with the industry on additional protections to safeguard the broadcaster’s role in supporting the production sector following these reforms”.
ITV and Channel 5 welcomed the measures introduced by government with ITV chief exec Dame Carolyn McCall (left) describing the bill as a “decisive staging post on the journey to a modern and flexible regime for TV and media in the UK”.
She urged government to enshrine the Bill in law “as soon as possible” given the “profound and dynamic changes in the global media ecology”.
She added: “The UK is a global leader in the creative industries and this legislation will help to maintain and strengthen that position.
Maria Kyriacou (below, right), Paramount Global’s president for broadcast & studios, international markets, said C5’s PSB licence renewal underscored the “ongoing success of the channel” in the UK media ecology.
“We hope that parliament supports and recognises the urgency of implementing [the Bill] to underpin the health and vitality of our world-leading British broadcasting and creative sector – and protect it for the future,” she added.
Other rules outlined by government will see VoD services obliged to provide subtitles on 80% of their programming, while 10% must have audio description and 5% signed interpretation.
The Bill notes that subtitles are already provided on a majority of VoD programming, but said it can be “inconsistent across services” while audio description and signing is even “rarer”.
In conjunction with the Bill, Frazer gave permission to Ofcom to proceed with the renewal of ITV and Channel 5’s PSB licences, in recognition of the “valuable role” they play in the UK’s public service landscape.
Smart speaker providers such as Google and Amazon have also been brought into line in terms of prominence, with legal requirements for services to carry all licenced UK radio stations and banning them from charging stations for hosting them or overlaying their ads over programming.
Elsewhere in the bill, Welsh PSB S4C will no longer be restricted by geography with its output becoming much more widely available across the UK, and ‘crown jewel’ sporting events, such as the World Cup and the Olympics, will continue to be free to watch to as wide an audience as possible.
This article first appeared on our sister site, Broadcast, written by Marian McHugh and John Elmes.
Carolyn McCall image via Richard Kendal/RTS
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