U.K. Public Service Networks Should Team on Netflix, Amazon Rival, Says Media Regulator

Ofcom CEO Sharon White - H 2017
Courtesy of Ofcom

"If the growth of Netflix and Amazon tells us one thing, it is that viewers will flock to single destinations that offer a wide variety of quality content," says Sharon White, while a Sky executive doesn't see the need for such an offer.

The CEO of U.K. media regulator Ofcom on Wednesday called on British public service broadcasters to collaborate on a streaming service for British content in the vein of Netflix and Amazon.

"If the growth of Netflix and Amazon tells us one thing, it is that viewers will flock to single destinations that offer a wide variety of quality content," Sharon White said in a speech at an industry conference in London, according to a copy of her remarks provided by Ofcom.

Each of the big U.K. public service TV companies runs its own on-demand catch-up service, such as the BBC iPlayer, the ITV Hub, Channel 4's All4 and Viacom-owned Channel 5's My5. A previous attempt for a joint streaming service never materialized due to opposition from the Competition Commission. Industry observers have suggested that would not be a hurdle anymore given the growing reach and market power of international streamers like Amazon and Netflix. 

Reports have said that the public service broadcasters have held some discussions about a joint streaming effort, but they haven't progressed so far.

"A common platform could combine the pulling power of Broadchurch (on ITV), Blue Planet (on the BBC) and Bake Off (on Channel 4)," White said on Wednesday. "It would make it easier for viewers to access content across a range of devices, with a single login."

BBC executives have repeatedly highlighted the growing might of Netflix and Amazon, with White suggesting: "As the national broadcaster, we’d expect the BBC to take the lead on forming such partnerships as it has done successfully to date."

Stephen van Rooyen, CEO of Sky U.K. and Ireland at European pay TV giant Sky, now part of U.S. cable giant Comcast, on Wednesday told reporters that collaboration can be great, pointing to a recent deal with Channel 4 that will allow terrestrial TV viewers in Britain to see previously paid-for content, including live coverage of Sky's 2019 Formula 1 Grand Prix and original drama series Tin Star

But he said he doesn't quite see the need for a joint streaming service. "I don’t necessarily frankly understand why the idea that putting them all into the same uber-app is the answer," he explained, adding "I don't understand necessarily that there is a problem" given that the U.K. public service broadcasters’ on-demand services are well distributed on all sorts of devices. He also added that the BBC iPlayer is "used by more people more often than Netflix today."

Asked if U.K. public broadcasters could follow a Hulu model, van Rooyen said that "Hulu was created because the idea of catch-up TV didn’t really exist," and because U.S. networks are commercial channels. "I don’t necessarily think the problem is the same between the U.S. and the U.K."