Netflix and Other Streaming Services Face Potential ‘Harmful Content’ Regulation in UK

A proposal from Boris Johnson’s government seeks “a level playing field” for its public service broadcasters

boris johnson streamers
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Getty Images)

The British government has, in effect, declared war on American streamers including Netflix and Amazon with “major reforms” that would give the nation’s broadcasters, including the BBC, a leg up on the U.S. competition and impose penalties for “harmful” content.

Nadine Dorries, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, penned an op-ed for i news on Wednesday in which she wrote, “The competition for eyeballs is fiercer than ever – and we’ve got to ensure British broadcasters can hold their own in this fight.”

She notes that the rise of “American streaming giants” over the last year has left linear channels such as the BBC and ITV with 20% less viewers. Her office has published a broadcasting white paper that would impose content regulations on U.S. streaming platforms for the first time.

“First, it’s only fair that British public service broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C – are given a level playing field with their American competitors. So we’re proposing a new Video-on-Demand Code that will hold Disney+, Netflix and the like to similar standards as traditional broadcasters, particularly when it comes to protecting audiences from harmful material,” Dorries wrote in her guest column.

Currently, U.K. regulator Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code has minimal oversight over Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video and doesn’t regulate Netflix and Apple TV+ at all, according to Deadline.

The new Video-on-Demand Code would allow British viewers to complain to Ofcom if they see something that they consider harmful on one of these streaming services. Those complaints could lead to fines of up to 5% of streamers’ revenues if they are found guilty of violating the new code.

“VoD services, which target and profit from UK audiences,” will be “subject to stricter rules protecting UK audiences from harmful material,” the DCMS wrote in the document.

The proposal will be presented to the U.K.’s Parliament in May, but it’s not clear when it would go into effect, if adopted.

Dorries hopes these reforms will “help unleash a new golden age of British broadcasting” and that “with the right backing, British broadcasters could rule the airwaves for years to come.”