Sunday 15 September 2019

BBC claims it is ‘crucial’ to UK media as Ofcom fears damage to competition

The watchdog has said changes to the iPlayer could damage media competition in the UK.

Programmes like Bodyguard have been cited by the BBC as vital to maintaining British content in a new media marketplace. (Sophie Mutevelian/World Producti)
Programmes like Bodyguard have been cited by the BBC as vital to maintaining British content in a new media marketplace. (Sophie Mutevelian/World Producti)

By Craig Simpson, Press Association

The BBC claimed it is “crucial” for British media after regulators highlighted a risk of the broadcaster squeezing out online competition.

Media watchdog Ofcom fears that, by putting out more BBC content on iPlayer to compete against the likes of Netflix and Amazon, the broadcaster could dominate and drive out competition in the UK.

The BBC planned to put out more material on its online platform, and has been told to test the public interest of this move, which Ofcom believes could squeeze public broadcast competition from the likes of All 4 and the ITV Hub.

But the BBC has said that it produces the lion’s share of UK content, and is therefore “vital” to ensuring that British stories are told in an era dominated by Netflix and Amazon.

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A general view of the BBC iPlayer’s home page (Philip Toscano/PA)

Contentious plans included uploading more box sets and BBC content, which has the advantage of being free and without adverts, and leaving it online for longer.

The broadcaster has claimed that the regulation which is now forcing it to examine the public interest of its new iPlayer model should reflect the importance of its British content.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said: “The BBC is the largest investor in British programming and talent.

“The priorities of Netflix and Amazon are different.

“That’s why our success is crucial for the future of our world-beating creative sector.

“Ultimately, we need to ensure that regulation acts in the interest of the wider public and supports the healthy future of Britain’s creative industries. We are sure Ofcom will recognise that.”

Ofcom itself has found that changes to the iPlayer could affect competition in the UK, damaging the chances of other online platforms from public service broadcaster like Channel 4 and ITV.

The regulator said: “We consider there is a risk that this increase in viewing to BBC iPlayer could come at the expense of its competitors.” 

They added that if other broadcasters were unable to compete and put out their own content “audiences could lose out”.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The reality is that we are operating in a UK market which has changed fundamentally with the advent of global tech giants who have deep pockets but do not reflect Britain and all its diversity.

“That’s what we do and why the public love our content.”

The BBC has been instructed to investigate what impact on the market its plans for the iPlayer will have, and if this is in the public interest. 

In the meantime it will be allowed to make smaller changes to the iPlayer, making less box sets available for a shorter period of time.

An Ofcom spokesman said: “We fully support the BBC’s ambition to innovate. But its decisions must be transparent, and checked to ensure they don’t unfairly harm popular, competing services such as ITV Hub, All 4 and Now TV.

“Our decision does not mean the BBC can’t implement its plans, but first the BBC and its board must properly examine their value and wider impact.”

PA Media

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