The UK government has confirmed its plans to overhaul the BBC licence fee, privatise Channel 4 and regulate streaming services.

The plans are set out in the white paper titled ‘Up Next – the Government’s Vision for the Broadcasting Sector’, published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Ofcom HQ London

Ofcom HQ London

Setting the scene for the changes, the white paper describes the UK creative economy as a global success story. But it argues that regulatory change is needed because: “the headwinds facing our radio and television broadcasters are intensifying. Competition is increasing, audience habits and technology are changing constantly, and global giants are making their presence felt.”

Among its proposals are a review of the licence fee funding model ahead of 2027, the date that a new BBC charter must be agreed. “We will set out more detailed plans for that review – which will complement the previously announced Mid-Term Review of the BBC Charter – in the coming months,” said the white paper.

Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, underlined the message of the white paper in a podcast by The Spectator magazine, in which she said the licence fee was “completely outdated.”

The government also promised to pursue a change of ownership for Channel 4. “This will ensure that Channel 4 can continue to thrive and grow its impact for years to come as part of the wider public service broadcasting ecology in the UK. Channel 4 is and will remain a public service broadcaster, just like other successful public service broadcasters – ITV, STV, Channel 5 – that are already privately owned.”

The white paper also pledged to bring “larger TV-like video-on-demand providers that are not currently regulated in the UK but who target and profit from UK audiences under Ofcom jurisdiction.”

The government also pledged to give Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a new Video-on-demand Code, similar to the Broadcasting Code, to ensure TV-like content, no matter how audiences choose to watch it, will be subject to similar standards. “These changes will mean UK audiences will be better protected from harmful material and better able to complain to Ofcom if they see something they are concerned about.”

Other proposals in the White Paper included:

  • Consulting on embedding the importance of distinctively British content directly into the existing quota system.
  • Introducing a new prominence regime for on-demand television to ensure public service content is both available and easy to find on designated TV platforms.
  • Updating the Terms of Trade to reflect changes in technology and the way viewers are watching content from our PSBs.
  • Initiating a review looking at whether to introduce a revenue cap for ‘qualifying independent’ producer status.

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