Ofcom to regulate FAST channels in the UK? The UK government has unveiled plans to bring the content of online TV channels such as FAST services available via connected TVs under the remit of media regulator Ofcom for the first time.
The government also plans a review of the future of TV distribution, including digital-terrestrial service Freeview, satellite, cable and online TV.
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer unveiled the plans at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention yesterday.
Channels distributed online, including to connected TVs, such as FAST services from Pluto TV, Samsung TV Plus, LG Channels and Amazon Freevee, are not subject to the same regulations as those provided by traditional broadcasters.
Ofcom to step in on FAST Channels
While some channels follow rules on inappropriate or harmful material voluntarily set by the companies who run them, UK viewers cannot complain to Ofcom if they are concerned by a programme, and Ofcom has no power to issue fines or other sanctions if a channel broadcasts harmful material.
Speaking at the RTS convention, Frazer said that “when you are watching TV, the same rules that apply to a new Channel 4 series or a new Sky documentary should be the ones applied across the board.”
“Seventy-four per cent of homes now have a smart TV connected to the internet. And this has spawned hundreds of new, mostly internet-based TV channels which have created yet another innovative way for audiences to enjoy their favourite shows,” said Frazer.
“But while this shift is an exciting one, it’s our job to look at those channels that fall outside our existing regulations and to make sure people are not left behind by this move to digital. That’s why we are going to consult on whether we need to extend regulation to these unregulated channels and Electronic Programme Guides. And if so, how? My starting point in looking at this will always be that any change to regulations must strike a balance between protecting people – particularly the young and vulnerable while protecting freedom of speech, and not unduly burdening the TV industry.”
Broadcasting Code must be adhered to by FAST Channels
The government has launched a consultation on proposals to bring unregulated TV channels into the scope of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, which is already followed by terrestrial and satellite channels.
The move is designed to complement new content rules on the streaming services in the government’s draft Media Bill.
The government has identified at least 19 unregulated EPGs – including Kapang, Samsung TV Plus, Pluto TV, LG Channels and Amazon Freevee, that are likely to be impacted.
Currently, only EPGs from Freeview, Freesat, Sky, Virgin Media, and YouView are regulated under the Broadcasting Code.
The latest proposals, which are subject to consultation responses from industry and the wider public, would extend the list of EPGs regulated by Ofcom to include only the most popular and easily accessible EPGs, available via a TV set. The consultation makes clear that any regulatory change must strike a balance between protecting people – particularly the young and vulnerable – while protecting freedom of speech. It will also seek views on how any changes to regulation are not unduly burdensome on the industry, respect media freedoms, and do not discourage competition and innovation.
The future of broadcasting is regulated FAST Channels
Separately, the government has called for a research project to look at the future of TV distribution as more viewing migrates to streaming platforms and has commissioned new research that it says will inform the government’s long-term strategy for the UK’s TV broadcasting landscape.
Frazer said the research would take six months and promised that she was “not going to pull the rug from under the devoted audiences of Freeview channels.”