Streaming giants ‘must ensure access to UK-made children’s programming’

Streaming giants and video-sharing platforms should do more to ensure British-made children’s programming is widely available, ministers have been told.

Labour called on the Culture Secretary to speak with international media platforms like Disney+ and YouTube to ensure “quality children’s content” from the UK is accessible.

MPs across the Commons urged ministers to make sure public service broadcasters (PSBs) such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX are given “significant” prominence on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks, as well as on app stores.

The Government’s Media Bill, aimed at updating decades-old broadcasting laws, includes a specific requirement for PSBs to continue to broadcast news and children’s programming.

But as MPs began their scrutiny of the Bill, shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire said she feared the importance of children’s TV had been “lost”.She told the Commons: “The Government must ensure the next generation doesn’t miss out on the high-quality, culturally relevant storytelling that our generations are so thankful to our public service broadcasters for – such as The Wombles.

“I don’t think it’s helpful for the long-term interests of our public service broadcasters if a generation has little experience of their content.

“So I ask the Secretary of State just to think carefully about how she can work with public service broadcasters to get more quality children’s content, crucially make sure it’s accessible as possible and particularly UK-made content.

“The Bill is designed to allow current public service broadcasters to fulfil their obligations by taking into account their online delivery platforms, but children are also spending a massive proportion of their time on Disney+, on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube, so I urge the Secretary of State to speak with those platforms about how they can provide more quality public service content produced here in the UK.”

Dame Caroline Dinenage, Conservative chairwoman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said plans to give PSBs more prominence on smart TVs and streaming sticks “can’t come soon enough”.

But she argued that detailed wording in the Bill should be changed to “significant” rather than “appropriate” prominence.

Dame Caroline Dinenage
Dame Caroline Dinenage (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

She told MPs: “It sounds like a really technical argument, but effectively, in the advanced user interfaces of today, what prominence looks like varies considerably from device to device and from platform to platform. This is really important.

“In other words, what is considered appropriate prominence is far more open to interpretation than before.”

SNP frontbencher Kirsty Blackman raised concerns that Apple and Google’s app stores were not covered in the duty to give prominence to PSBs.

She said: “I have concerns about the way that organisations like the App Store and the Google Play store have behaved, particularly the App Store, who have said we can only carry things like BBC iPlayer or STV Player if you give us a significant slice of your revenue.

“That is not acceptable. We want people, if they look up BBC iPlayer on the App Store, to be able to get BBC iPlayer, for it to be the top result that they are looking at in the App Store and not put further down because Apple have somehow had an argument with the BBC about it.”

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer earlier told MPs the Bill would “level the playing field for public service broadcasters”.

She said: “It’s clear that this Bill is needed to enable our world-leading broadcasters to compete in an ever-more online world.

“Measures in this Bill will introduce simpler, more up-to-date rules on what our public service broadcasters have to broadcast and how they reach viewers, making sure the high-quality public service content of our audiences remains easy to find as viewer habits evolve.”

MPs will continue to scrutinise the Bill in more detail at a later date.