Netflix Threatens To Purge Shows In UK To Avoid Falling Foul Of “Onerous” New Streamer Regulations

EXCLUSIVE: Netflix has threatened to preemptively remove films and TV shows from its UK library to avoid falling foul of new streamer regulations being introduced by the British government.

Ministers in the UK want media regulator Ofcom to police streaming giants in a similar way to traditional broadcasters, meaning the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video could be fined up to £250,000 ($310,000) for carrying harmful content.

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In a submission to UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Netflix took a swipe at plans to introduce “due impartiality” rules for streamers under the Media Bill, calling draft legislation “nebulous” and potentially “onerous” for services to enforce.

The Media Bill states that major streamers must consider impartiality in the context of contemporary events, pointing specifically to “current public policy” and matters of “political or industrial controversy.”

Netflix said that staying on the right side of this rule would require it to keep its giant catalog of content under continual review, ensuring that it is “purging titles on a regular basis” regardless of when a show or film premiered.

“The range and variety of Netflix’s content, generally considered a strength of our offering in terms of maximising choice for British viewers, could equally become a potential source of risk from a compliance perspective if it fell within Ofcom’s remit,” Netflix said.

“Without considerably greater clarity around the scope and application of these provisions, it would inevitably be easier to remove content pre-emptively from our UK catalogue than risk an onerous compliance burden and potential liability.”

In its five-page document sent to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Netflix echoed language used last month by Benjamin King, the streamer’s head of policy in the UK. King said the impartiality rules could have a “chilling” effect on its appetite to make documentaries available to British audiences.

Netflix added that the legislative proposals also open up the risk of “complaint tourism,” meaning people outside of the UK could complain to Ofcom.

More broadly, Netflix said regulation of streaming services should be different from traditional broadcasters. Viewers make active decisions to watch Netflix content, the streamer said, whereas people may accidentally stumble across potentially harmful shows on linear TV.

Disney Echoes Netflix Concerns

Disney made the same argument in its four-page missive to the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee. The U.S. media giant said the audience protection measures it puts in place on Disney+, such as age ratings, means it is not proportionate to introduce blanket streaming regulation.

Disney said: “Given the differences between linear broadcasting and VoD , the robust audience protection measures put in place by most VoD services, the varying consumer propositions and brand promises made by different VoD services, it seems inappropriate to apply uniform rules on all VoD services, whether that is strict content rules or mandated ratings.”

Netflix is the most popular streaming service in the UK with an estimated 17M subscribers, according to Ofcom. Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ are the second and third most in-demand streamers.

In other evidence to the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, Warner Bros. Discovery and Fremantle raised concerns about plans to allow Channel 4 to make its own shows.

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