BBC chair: UK media regulation is no longer fit for modern age

Jim Waterson Media editor


The BBC chair is to suggest that the system of media regulation is no longer fit for the modern age, after the corporation was forced to delay plans to make more programmes available for up to a year on iPlayer.

Audiences used to watching programmes as box sets on Netflix are becoming increasingly frustrated that most BBC programmes are only available on catchup for 30 days. The public broadcaster wants to make more shows available on iPlayer for longer, but has been told by the media regulator, Ofcom, to conduct a public-interest test into the proposals, in the belief it could harm commercial television rivals.

Sir David Clementi will tell an audience on Monday that iPlayer’s 30-day catchup window is one of the main complaints he hears from licence fee payers. The BBC chair will say: “Netflix currently updates its app over 50 times a year with no need for regulatory approval, and can stream content for as long as they negotiate with rights holders. It’s a market in which to stand still is to go rapidly backwards.”

He will tell the Oxford Media Convention that many parts of the existing regulation system were designed to stop the well-funded BBC trampling over its commercial rivals in an era when UK TV channels were competing for audiences. Clementi believes these regulations are out of date because the BBC itself is being massively outspent by the likes of Netflix, who are capturing younger viewers and drawing away top stars.

“The current regulatory system has its origins in an era where the BBC was seen as the big beast in the jungle, the big beast against whom all others needed protection. But that view of the world has now passed. Increasingly, our major competitors are well-funded international giants – Netflix, Spotify, Facebook, YouTube – whose financial resources dwarf our own,” Clementi will say.

“We need to look again at whether regulation, born in a UK-centric linear era, remains fit for the global, digital age.

“The explosion of choice from the new online players has undoubtedly been a good thing for UK consumers. But in embracing the new we should also celebrate, and protect, what is good about our existing broadcast ecology.”

The BBC has an uneasy relationship with streaming companies such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, sometimes co-producing big-budget shows with the services in order to save costs, while at the same time eyeing the streaming services’ ever-growing audiences as an existential threat to the licence fee model.

The BBC director general, Tony Hall, has also had to make the case that the BBC provides value for money, while also trying to avoid appearing triumphant in pointing out that the BBC can still reach enormous audiences.