Insights The Draft Media Bill and what it means for UK broadcast laws

Eleven months after the publication of the White Paper, which set out the government’s vision for the broadcasting sector, the Draft Media Bill has been published.

  • A variety of provisions to better enable Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) to compete with streaming giants including measures to make PSB’s VOD services and internet programme services more prominent and more widely available.
  • Larger non-UK streaming services brought within Ofcom’s rules and new VOD Code to align content standards of largest VOD providers (whether based in the UK or not) to that of UK broadcasters to level the playing field.
  • Audience protection measures to now also apply to the larger non-UK VOD services.
  • Accessibility requirements also raised for larger VOD providers to align with broadcaster’s requirements.
  • Protection of UK radio stations has been introduced by new reforms targeting smart speakers.
  • C4 is able to produce its own programming (like ITV and BBC) to help its long-term sustainability.

As expected, the PSB remit has been simplified and prominence and “must-offer” and “must-carry” obligations have been extended to include PSB’s “designated internet programme services”. Prominence obligations also extend across VOD and on smart-TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks. PSBs will be able to deliver on the remit more flexibly, including allowing distribution of content through a wider range of FTA platforms, such as VOD.

Larger non-UK VOD platforms are brought under Ofcom’s jurisdiction and all of the largest VOD providers (Tier 1) will now be subject to the same or similar standards of UK broadcasters. The Draft Media Bill also specifically addresses the divergence in the provision of access services between broadcast and VOD, which will be aligned for Tier 1 providers. The objectives of a new VOD Code, applicable to Tier 1 providers, are stated to be aligned with the Broadcasting Code objectives. Those services which make it on to Ofcom’s “Tier 1” list will, therefore, be hotly anticipated.

Rather than the expansion of “regulated EPGs”, a new category of programme presentation selection services “Television Selection Services” (TSS) has been introduced. These TSS present viewers with programmes or services via the internet, using television equipment (though the Secretary of State (SoS) is yet to define these fully). The SoS also has the power to designate “regulated television selection services” (RTSS), being those TSS that are used by a significant number of viewers in the UK. In connection with the “must-offer” obligations of any designated internet programme service, any regulated TSS “must carry” the relevant designated internet programme service. The arrangements for this must be consisted with certain “agreement objectives”. Providers of RTSS are required to provide certain features which assist disabled people.

PSBs providing designated internet programme services and any RTSS will be required to pay fees to Ofcom. They will also be required to adhere to a new Code and Guidance provided by Ofcom and Ofcom’s power in respect of any offences by RTSS include fines up to the greater of £250,000 and 5% of qualifying worldwide revenue.

Following the DCMS announcement that C4 would remain in public ownership, the Draft Media Bill concentrates on proving greater commercial flexibility to the broadcaster. C4 will no longer be barred from producing its own content and, as the government has already announced, is set to receive an increase in its independent production quota (currently set at 25%), with the likely introduction of protection for smaller independent producers. In addition, there is greater flexibility in its regional (outside the M25) production quota and the school programme quota is removed. Similarly, S4C’s public service remit has been changed and provides greater clarity on its ability to invest and generate commercial revenue. In addition geographic restrictions are removed and S4C can also broaden its reach to offer its content on a range of digital services.

Although ‘understanding the radio industry’ was identified in the White Paper as a ‘long term challenge’ the Draft Media Bill includes a number of changes to ensure that the requirements for radio are more fit for purpose. Reforms to the position of UK radio stations on smart speakers reflect that listeners are increasingly moving away from broadcast to listening via the Internet. Platforms such as Google and Amazon will now be obliged to carry UK-licensed services and will not be able to charge for access or derive revenue from overlayed ads. In addition, a reduction in regulatory burdens for radio, allowing stations to change their programming without the need for Ofcom’s consent will provide them with greater flexibility.

There are updates to the listed events regime to include both television programme services and internet programme services. This will benefit PSBs as it provides greater flexibility.

This is just a high-level summary of the current proposals. Many of these areas are worthy of more detailed commentary, both on the current drafting and the additional elements required to be provided by the SoS / Ofcom in conjunction with the final Media Bill. Watch this space for our thoughts. If you have any questions on the draft bill, or what the next steps will be for these proposals, please get in touch.