Broadcasters Want Government Support Against Netflix

The battle of content providers continues

by Aaron Macarthy Beards Oct 16, 2018 at 11:35 AM


  • The UK’s leading public broadcasters have published an open letter in which they urge the UK government to support local networks as they seek to compete with international streaming services.
    The letter is signed by Carolyn McCall (CEO, ITV), Tony Hall (Director-General, BBC), Alex Mahon (CEO, Channel 4), James Currell (President, Viacom UK), Simon Pitts (CEO, STV) and Owen Evans (CEO, S4C). The letter talks of a "global commercial battle going on to shape and influence what we watch, listen to, or buy from the comfort of our homes."

    The letter, published by The Guardian, asks the government to mandate that video platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, give broadcaster produced content more prominent placement. For instance, shows by the BBC or ITV would be featured more prominently than those by Netflix, Amazon or other countries' broadcasters.

    The letter argues that: "Public service broadcasting is essential to our culture... it supports social cohesion, informs our understanding of the world, shapes public debate and contributes to our global soft power. It is also vital to our democracy, reaching tens of millions of people each week with high-quality, accurate and impartial news, covering events in the world around them, at home and abroad.... in an era of fake news, echo chambers and social media filter bubbles, Ofcom data tells us that TV remains the most important and trusted source of news for UK citizens." (From: The Guardian).

    The public broadcasters face different problems of their own. Whereas the BBC is funded by the government and by licence fees, the other networks make most of their money from advertising. None of the traditional advertiser funded networks have managed to come up with a convincing online streaming platform that's fully funded by adverts.


    Some eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that one of the letter's signatories, James Currell, is President of Viacom UK. This is because the Multinational Corporation is actually the owner of Channel 5. Along with Channel 5, Viacom also owns Paramount film studios, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, to name just a few.

    There are certainly a lot of different interest groups at play here. However, Disney is set to release a new streaming platform, next year, that will only feature Disney's own TV shows and films. The race is on to create new exclusive content that consumers can only access via a company's own platform. Such content costs millions of dollars per episode. As such, it's unlikely that Netflix or Amazon will want to give prominence to content that they, themselves, have not created.

    Are public broadcasters correct? Do we need independent service providers to best represent the UK’s culture? Or are Netflix and Amazon ahead because they are better at knowing what the British audience wants to watch?

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