Governments are locking horns with the world's best streaming services over how they should be policed, and the battle is heating up in the UK. In response to the proposed Media Bill to regulate streamers under the same rules as broadcast networks, Netflix has said that it would be "easier" to take early action by removing some movies and shows than risk being potentially liable.
Ministers had proposed the new rules last year but following criticism about the accuracy of the Harry & Megan documentary, plans were brought forward to give broadcasting regulator Ofcom the power to fine streaming services if their content doesn’t remain impartial (in the same way the broadcast channels are currently regulated).
In a five-page letter to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Netflix called the proposed rules “nebulous” and “potentially onerous”. Under the planned rules, streaming services would have to regularly review titles to ensure they were impartial to contemporary events, such as “current public policies” and “matters of political or industrial controversy”.
Netflix says that it's not exactly clear what would fall foul of the new rules, and that – given the broad range and sheer variety of Netflix’s library of content – the proposed rules would restrict its ability to easily add new series and films to the platform without reviewing every line of dialogue and frame to ensure that the content was compliant. So the streamer is saying that it might have to preemptively remove content en masse to avoid too much of a burden on itself. It's also calling for greater clarity about the rules and believes it will be easier to take preemptive steps.
Disney agrees with Netflix that the new rules are a problem, unsurprisingly. It has also reportedly sent a four-page letter in response to the committee, saying that some broadcast rules, such as those around age restrictions, are not comparable to how all streaming platforms operate.
Countries set boundaries for streaming giants
The increasing shift away from ‘linear’ TV channels to streaming services is not isolated to the UK. In the US, Nielsen data shows that streaming overtook cable and broadcast TV for the first time with the largest share of viewing last year. However, there’s no sign of stricter rules being launched in the US yet.
That’s not a stance that’s been followed elsewhere though. The European Union has been enforcing that 30% of all content on a streaming platform be dedicated to TV shows and movies made among the member states since 2018. Australia is also planning to introduce content quotas by mid-2024.
And just last month, Canada passed its Online Streaming Act into law, which regulates streaming platforms such as Netflix, Prime Video and Disney Plus under similar laws to the country’s networks. The bill requires streamers to contribute to the production of domestic content as well as support Canadian artists.
The timing of the UK's proposed streaming rules isn't great if it does lead to Netflix removing content, especially considering that we're in the midst of a Netflix password sharing crackdown and Disney removing tons of shows. With our favorite shows and movies also affected by the writer's strike in Hollywood, there is even more reason to make the most of what content is available now.
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Amelia became the Senior Editor for Home Entertainment at TechRadar in the UK in April 2023. With a background of more than eight years in tech and finance publishing, she's now leading our coverage to bring you a fresh perspective on everything to do with TV and audio. When she's not tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos in the ever-evolving world of home entertainment, you’ll find her watching movies, taking pictures and travelling.