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UK TV bosses welcome Media Bill as streamer regulation is confirmed

Bosses at ITV and STV in the UK have welcomed the government’s long-awaited Media Bill, which is set to reform decades-old broadcast laws.

Simon Pitts

Yesterday’s King’s Speech, delivered by Kings Charles III, set out the government’s programme and legislative agenda for the final parliamentary session ahead of the next general election.

It included the Media Bill, which promises a major overhaul of UK broadcast law, with TV and radio broadcasters, OTT services and smart devices all affected.

One of its chief aims is to enable the country’s public service broadcasters (PSBs) – the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 – to better compete with global companies by ensuring the latter are regulated by a new ‘video-on-demand code,’ to be drafted and enforced by UK media regulator Ofcom.

UK television industry figures have long been calling for the bill to be passed into law as UK PSBs continue to struggle while audiences shift to comparatively unregulated US-based streamers and social media platforms.

It will also ensure public service content is always carried by connected devices and online platforms and that it is easy to find for UK audiences on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks. This reform is vital for PSB sustainability, the UK government said.

Carolyn McCall, ITV chief executive, said: “We welcome the inclusion of the Media Bill in the King’s Speech, as the UK Government sets out its legislative agenda for the forthcoming year. The draft Media Bill sets out the Government’s intention to update and reform the legal and regulatory framework for television, particularly delivered online. This should ensure that the content from the public service broadcasters, including ITV, will be included in prominent positions on streaming platforms.”

The new laws will also introduce simpler, more up-to-date rules on what the UK’s public service broadcasters have to broadcast and how they reach viewers, ensuring they are able to adapt to changing viewer habits as people increasingly watch TV online.

STV also welcomed the inclusion of the Media Bill in the King’s Speech. Its chief executive, Simon Pitts, welcomed the news but stressed the importance of swift passage of the Bill through Parliament to protect the future of public service media.

He said: “Prominence for PSB services in the digital era is critical and so we welcome the inclusion of the Media Bill in the King’s speech. This key piece of legislation will ensure services like STV Player are easily discoverable as more viewing shifts online.

“STV is Scotland’s most popular peak time TV channel and our news programmes are the most watched in Scotland, providing viewers with relevant and trusted news from their region.

“It’s vital that the Bill moves swiftly through Parliament to ensure that this level of public service broadcasting is sustained and strengthened in future, and that our highly valued and trusted service in Scotland remains easy for viewers to find.”

A key omission was the privatisation of Channel 4, plans for which were included in the White Paper back in 2022 but then abandoned by the government at the beginning of this year following fierce opposition from practically the entire industry.

However, the Bill would no longer bar Channel 4 from producing its own content if it chooses to do so, which has raised serious concerns from the UK’s independent production sector.

The final report on the draft Media Bill, published in September, included more details on these proposals, designed to help C4 expand its revenues beyond purely advertising, which would allow it to produce shows in-house and retain rights for international distribution.

“Allowing Channel 4 to produce and monetise its own content will help diversify its revenue streams but could have significant implications for the independent production sector and the wider production ecology outside of the South East. We recommend that, on introduction of the Bill, the Government should publish a policy statement setting out its intended monitoring and mitigations for any harm to the wider production sector from the changes to Channel 4’s model,” the final report on the draft Media Bill stated.


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