HomeInsightsGovernment publishes response to its consultation on audience protection standards on video-on-demand services

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On 31 August 2021, the Government launched an eight-week consultation on audience protection standards on video-on-demand services. The consultation considered whether UK audiences viewing TV-like on-demand programme content should receive the same or similar level of protections as if they were watching traditional television, and whether video-on-demand services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, not currently regulated by Ofcom and which target UK audiences should be brought within UK jurisdiction.

After considering the responses to the consultation the Government now intends to legislate “in a light-touch manner” to give Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a new Video-on-demand Code, similar to the Broadcasting Code, to ensure that TV-like content, no matter how audiences choose to watch it, will be subject to similar standards. The Government says that these changes will mean UK audiences will be better protected from harmful material and better able to complain to Ofcom if they see something they are concerned about.

The regime will be aimed at larger, TV-like video-on-demand services to ensure that major services which engage UK audiences are subject to the same or similar obligations as UK broadcasters. This will also ensure that larger TV-like on-demand providers who are not currently regulated in the UK but who target and profit from UK audiences, will come under Ofcom jurisdiction. The specific services that will be subject to enhanced regulation will be determined by the Secretary of State following a review by Ofcom.

Accordingly, larger on-demand streaming services will have the same or similar obligations as traditional broadcasters, including effective handling of complaints. Ofcom tools to regulate video-on-demand, such as information gathering and enforcement powers, will also be brought in line with existing broadcasting regulation.

Under the new regime, increased conformity on protection tools and measures, such as age ratings, PIN codes and warnings, will not be made compulsory. Instead, Ofcom will be given an ongoing duty to assess on-demand providers’ audience protection measures. This will ensure that the systems put in place by video-on-demand providers are effective and fit for purpose and allow Ofcom to secure change if needed.

Respecting issues of free speech and proportionality, smaller, lower risk on-demand services in the UK will continue under existing rules, ensuring services that have a smaller audience size and pose lower-risk to viewers, are not unfairly or unnecessarily penalised. To read the Government’s response in full, click here.