Streaming TV

All content providers are affected by government restrictions, and most of the time, services such as Canada are often among the most restricted. But online gaming companies like betting online are not the only ones affected by the “good old” government restrictions: even streaming services are affected. Controlling services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video has now become a major issue, especially in the UK, as “rulebooks” created in the 60s have difficulty keeping up with the digital age. In this article, we will talk about the future of the relationship between the UK and the streaming giants.

What Is Ofcom?

We will mention Ofcom often below, so let’s start by briefly explaining what it is. Ofcom stands for “The Office of Communications” and was founded in 2003. It is a government subsidiary, and its main purpose is to supervise all broadcasting services in the country, to ensure that they comply with certain rules. All commercial television and radio services licenses in the UK are granted by Ofcom, and every company that obtains this license must comply with the rules set by the government in their broadcasts; otherwise, their licenses may be revoked. These rules contain several criteria in terms of harm, offence, accuracy and impartiality to prevent, for example, the display of violence and blood in broadcasts that appeal to children. The keyword here is “broadcasting services within the country.” As might be expected, and naturally, Ofcom has no control or enforcement rights if a broadcast is made from outside the UK.

The Current Status of Streaming Services

Ofcom is almost 20 years old, and when it emerged, there was no streaming service. Therefore, the laws and regulations governing this organization’s powers do not cover services that broadcast for UK audiences but are not located in the UK: no one would have guessed that such services would exist. Currently, Netflix Europe is headquartered in the Netherlands and naturally falls outside Ofcom’s jurisdiction. A similar situation applies to other streaming giants: none of them has their headquarters in the UK. All of them broadcast from different European countries, and some of them do not even have a “ physical” headquarters. They can broadcast from anywhere in the world using cloud servers. In other words, the address of Netflix Europe, for example, could be a data center consisting only of servers.

As none of these services is located in the UK, they do not have to be licensed by Ofcom and are therefore not subject to Ofcom’s control. In fact, the only streaming service currently required to broadcast according to Ofcom’s rules is BBC iPlayer.

In practice, Disney+ and Prime Video have an editorial office in the UK, but this is not their headquarters. You can think of these offices as places to collaborate with local studios. Netflix, on the other hand, does not have any local offices at all. There is a group in government that thinks that at least Disney+ and Prime Video should be subject to Ofcom’s rules: after all, they have a physical office in the UK, right? But there are those who think that this would be to bend the law, and no one can answer this question definitively: what if Disney+ and Prime Video close their UK offices but continue streaming? These services do not need a physical office – they can reach anywhere in the world via the Internet. As such, being subject to Ofcom restrictions may simply cause them to decide to leave the UK, and even if they do, they do not need to stop their service.

Local Channels Cannot Compete

We don’t know for sure who will win this debate, but the side that wants to subject all streaming services, including Netflix, to Ofcom’s control seems to have an advantage. One of the biggest reasons for this is that Ofcom-controlled UK channels, especially the BBC, are complaining about the situation. Local channels claim that the current regulation prevents them from competing. After all, they are subject to numerous sanctions, which means that the content they offer cannot go beyond a certain format. However, streaming services can act more freely and attract more viewers by trying different formats. Local channels think the government should level the playing field, and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, for example, agrees: if there are rules, they should apply to everyone.

The UK government is currently conducting an investigation to determine whether regulations for streaming services should be tightened. At the time of this article, the result of the research was not yet clear. However, if a decision is made to tighten the regulation, it is likely that streaming services will also be required to obtain an Ofcom license, and services that do not have this license will be restricted from broadcasting in the UK. But is it right for the government to interfere with the content of paid services? Whatever the result of the research, it looks like new debates will begin.

You may also like