26 February 2024

What is the Media Bill and what does it mean for Ofcom?

The UK’s media landscape is one of the most vibrant in the world, and audiences can enjoy a growing range of services, journalism and programming.

The rise of video on-demand and streaming services has transformed how we watch and listen to content. Although live broadcast TV and radio services are widely valued, technological changes have gone hand in hand with declines in linear viewing and listening. People in the UK watched on average 30% less broadcast TV in 2022 compared to 2014, while two-thirds of households now subscribe to at least one video on-demand service.

What is the Media Bill?

The UK Government has introduced a new piece of legislation to make sure there’s an up-to-date framework in place to protect public service broadcasters (PSBs) while fostering innovation. The Bill makes some changes to Ofcom’s existing responsibilities as regulator of broadcast media. Measures include:

  • Amending and simplifying the requirements of public service broadcasters so they can focus on creating high-quality programming that serves audiences. This includes protecting people’s ability to watch events of national interest for free, such as major sporting events.
  • An Ofcom-regulated video-on-demand code for major streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. These services will be subject to editorial standards similar to the ones that protect people from harmful content on broadcast TV. This means we will be handling complaints about content shown on these platforms. Streaming services will also be subject to accessibility requirements such as subtitling, so more disabled people can access this content.
  • New rules to make sure public service content is available, prominent, and easily accessible on connected TV platforms, such as smart TVs and streaming sticks. This will result in the on-demand players on which PSBs distribute public service programming (for example ITVX) becoming more visible on connected TV platforms. This will require us to establish new codes, guidance and dispute resolution processes designed to ensure a fair and sustainable system that serves audiences.
  • The Bill gives Channel 4 the ability to produce and monetise more of its own programming. We would review this to make sure the wider sector is not unduly impacted.
  • Removing outdated regulatory burdens on radio services, while protecting and strengthening the provision of local news.
  • New protections to make sure that BBC, commercial and community stations across the UK remain accessible to listeners via voice assistants.

What’s next? Our roadmap

The Media Bill is the first major update to UK legislation in this area for 20 years. It sets out to make sure UK audiences have access to a wide range of high quality live and on-demand TV, while protecting people from harmful or offensive material.

We’ve set out our roadmap which details how we will approach implementing these changes in a way that’s fair, proportionate and effective.

Our plan and timetable will be determined by the timing of the Bill’s passage through Parliament.

In our approach to implementing the Bill, we will consult openly and use the range of evidence and research available to us to secure the best outcomes for people across the UK.