U.K. Culture Secretary Hints at Possible Regulation for Netflix, Amazon

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U.K. culture secretary Jeremy Wright

"For relatively new on-demand platforms, rules are in many areas not as robust" compared with public service broadcasters, says Jeremy Wright.

U.K. culture secretary Jeremy Wright, at an industry conference in London on Thursday, lauded streaming giants Netflix and Amazon for their growing role in Britain's media landscape but also signaled that they could face some form of regulation in the future.

"Netflix and Amazon Prime are now an established part of our media landscape … and they are making a substantial contribution" via a growing number of local productions, including 40 from Netflix, he told the Media & Telecoms 2019 & Beyond conference, hosted by Deloitte and Enders Analysis. But Wright added that "we must also make sure that our concept of broadcasting, and our policies towards it, recognize and reflect the growing impact of the digital world."

Britain's regulation of TV networks "is widely appreciated, including by audiences, for its robustness and effectiveness, and it sets the framework for much of the cultural and economic benefit that we so value," the culture secretary explained. "It provides crucial consumer protections, especially with regard to harmful and inaccurate content, which plays an important role in ensuring trust in our broadcasters. But for relatively new on-demand platforms, rules are in many areas not as robust."

Wright didn't make specific proposals but hinted that streamers could be required to represent the diversity of Britain just like public service broadcasters, such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Viacom's Channel 5. "We place high expectations on our public service broadcasters to reflect and represent the full diversity of the U.K.'s nations and regions, and in doing so creating a product that often appeals across the globe," the culture secretary said. "On-demand platforms undoubtedly have global appeal. But it is worth thinking about how we can encourage them to develop in a way that means the content produced here truly reflects U.K. audiences."

Wright highlighted in his appearance that the industry doesn't have to be a case of haves and have-nots but that various players can all do well. "Having a thriving public service broadcaster system and a thriving SVOD world is not mutually exclusive," he said.

BBC director general Tony Hall was among those executives who earlier in the conference day also called for more regulation of tech and digital giants in Britain. "It can't be right that — as [U.K. media regulator] Ofcom themselves have pointed out — the same program can be regulated in half a dozen different ways in the U.K., depending on who's hosting it. And all this needs to happen at pace so public service broadcasters can respond in real time. Remember, Netflix updates its app weekly, with no hold-up and no regulatory approval. We know from our [streaming catch-up service] iPlayer research: audiences expect us to evolve at the same speed."

Similarly, ITV CEO Carolyn McCall had argued that regulation was "important" for ensuring a level playing field.

Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch agreed. "It is illogical if when you watch something on your TV, it is highly regulated, but if that video comes through YouTube or Facebook, it gets a free pass," he said during his appearance. "The tech platforms were born in an entirely different world. Policymakers once saw their role as fanning the flames of their growth, they now know they need to apply regulation, with a framework built on rules, oversight, and consequences, like with every other sector."