Please wait...
Please wait...

Netflix warns UK Media Bill could have ‘chilling effect’ on programming

Netflix’s director of public policy in the UK and Ireland, Benjamin King, has warned that the UK government’s draft Media Bill could “prove unworkable” and have a “chilling effect” on the streamer’s offer in the UK.

Benjamin King

King told attendees at a Westminster Media Forum on Thursday morning that while Netflix supports the introduction of the Media Bill, which was published in its draft form last month and is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, the streamer believes certain aspects of it pose significant issues.

Designed to modernise the UK’s decades-old broadcasting legislation and allow public service broadcasters (PSBs) to better compete with the US-based streamers, the bill is set to bring VoD services like Netflix under UK regulation by giving Ofcom power to investigate and take action against such operators.

This would potentially mean Netflix would not be able to make certain originals available in the UK, for example if a documentary it produced in the US failed to meet impartiality or accuracy standards in the UK.

King did not refer to any titles specifically, but said Netflix could be stifled by the regulations and this may impact its output in the UK.

“We have long supported the bill’s introduction and proposals to bring our service under Ofcom’s jurisdiction in the UK. Policymakers’ desire to further harmonise the regulation of linear and video-on-demand is equally understandable,” King said.

“We are concerned that the government’s plans for due-impartiality provisions on non-UK content could, without careful circumscribing, prove unworkable or risk a chilling effect on Netflix’s appetite to make available our many documentaries, which are so beloved of our UK members,” he continued.

“Even in the linear context, Ofcom has highlighted in past adjudications the potential threat to freedom of expression from overzealous application of this challenging concept. We would strongly urge government to consider carefully whether legislation in this area is both necessary and proportionate, given the absence of any obvious harm under the status quo.

“We look forward to engaging closely with government, parliament and Ofcom on all these questions to ensure the eventual outcome is the right one both for audiences and creative freedom, and also helps to further foster and support the dynamic and world-leading screen sector we have today.”

Execs at UK broadcasters have previously complained that while the BBC and other public broadcasters are diligent and must follow guidelines when it comes to issues around duty of care to programming participants and conflicts of interest, no such rules have been established for the OTT players.

Then-Storyville editor Mandy Chang told Sheffield Doc/Fest delegates in 2019  thatshe doubted the BBC would even have been able to show Netflix documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened due to the fact the publicists for the failed music festival were behind the film.

Netflix’s stance clashes with that of UK broadcasters, who called for the draft Media Bill to be passed into law as soon as possible at Thursday’s forum.

Meanwhile, King said the latest incarnation of long-running BBC hit Doctor Who highlighted the way the US-based streamer “enhances the cultural soft power of the UK,” which he described as its “second most important production hub” behind the US.

Ncuti Gatwa, who broke through in Netflix hit Sex Education, was cast as the new Doctor last year and will be joined by Yasmin Finney, who was first seen in Netflix teen drama Heartstopper.

King said the casting of the duo in the UK pubcaster’s sci-fi drama had made Netflix “proud” and that “there’s no better example of the virtuous cycle of investment at work. I’ve no doubt this will be the first of many examples like these in the years to come.”

Streamers such as Netflix have been accused in the past of taking talent away from broadcasters, a trend that began when the streamers started commissioning local originals in markets such as the UK.

“As champions of British talent, we want to help a whole new generation find their voice on the global stage by giving them the means to develop skills at the start of their careers,” King said.

His comments came after the streamer this week added more originals to its UK line-up and claimed it had invested almost US$6bn in the British creative economy since 2020.

Please wait...