The UK government has published its long-awaited draft Media Bill to bring the U.S. streamers under its regulatory framework and help public broadcasters “embrace the digital age.”

The bill marks the next step in long-planned legislation that, once passed, could see the likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video fined up to £250,000 ($308,000) or restricted in the UK entirely if they break rules around harmful material that have applied to the public broadcasters for decades.

The White Paper that laid out plans for the bill in April 2022 had initially floated the idea that these streamers either be fined the £250,000 maximum or 5% of their local revenues, whichever was higher, but the latter option has been removed from today’s draft bill.

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Once passed, media regulator Ofcom will be given “more robust powers to investigate and take action to enforce standards if they consider it appropriate,” added the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The move will satisfy calls to bring streamers more in line with broadcasters given how much UK content the U.S. giants produce and how much UK talent they have snapped up over the past few years. In another sign that the government is keen to help level the playing field between traditional players and tech giants, smart speaker operators such as Google and Amazon will be required to give listeners access to UK radio stations and these platforms will be banned from charging stations for being hosted on their services.


Another long-term demand from bosses at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 has been around prominence for their VoD players iPlayer, ITVX and All4, and the new legislation will force global TV platforms to “prominently” carry these services, which will “help ensure distinctly British programming remains easy to find as viewing increasingly shifts online, and UK audiences can readily find the content they value when they turn on their TV.”

Calls for greater prominence were first made around half a decade ago and broadcasting bosses may argue that the move, which still needs to pass through UK parliament via the Media Bill, could have come too little too late, however.

Also contained in today’s bill is the replacement of a number of “purposes and objectives” for the UK broadcasters by a “new remit better suited for the digital age.”

Online programing will now count towards government-enforced quotas and Ofcom will have the power to require PSBs to provide more of a particular type of show if the regulator believes audiences are being underserved.

Last week, Ofcom issued a separate plan to update the BBC’s operating license for the digital age, which includes a number of ways in which its quotas are to be relaxed.

Controversial plans to force the PSBs to abide by “distinctive British content quotas” appear to have been ditched, having attracted the ire of creative heavyweights such as Lucy Prebble and Jack Thorne.

Another policy that dropped off the White Paper was the sale of Channel 4, which was recently reversed to the industry’s delight. Included instead is a transformative move to allow Channel 4 to produce and own its own content for the first time in its four-decade history.

UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the Media Bill will “give these brilliant broadcasters and our legendary radio industry the tools to keep doing what they do best,” having been “put under unprecedented pressure” by “changes to viewing habits.”

Frazer replaced Michelle Donelan several weeks ago. Donelan replaced arch-BBC sceptic Nadine Dorries – the original White Paper architect – over the summer.

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