Labour is pushing for broadcasters including Sky and Virgin Media to do more to promote online services such as the BBC iPlayer and children’s channels including CBeebies.
The party is demanding a clause be added to the digital economy bill that would mean the catch-up and on-demand services of the UK’s public service broadcasters – namely the iPlayer, Channel 4’s All4, the ITV Hub and Channel 5’s My5 – would have to be given more prominence by broadcasters such as Sky on their channel guides and the home screen of their TV service.
The new clause, which is to be debated by the public bill committee on Tuesday, would also apply to “smart TVs” that allow viewers access to apps and TV channels without a traditional electronic programme guide.
Under current Ofcom rules PSBs are guaranteed prime slots at the top of the EPG for their flagship channels.
However, PSBs including the BBC have become increasingly concerned that the current rules, passed into law in the Communications Act 2003, do not take into account technological developments such as the iPlayer and the new wave of smart TVs.
Broadcasters such as Sky do not have to give any prominence to services such as the iPlayer, or to channels such as CBeebies and CBBC which are buried below 12 US cartoon networks in the channel listings, much to the annoyance of the BBC.
PSBs including the BBC are concerned that just as more viewers turn to catch-up and on-demand services they are being made harder and harder to find, and accuse companies such as Sky of deliberately burying them in favour of their own shows and services, or those of commercial partners.
The Labour clause is aiming to toughen the wording in the digital economy bill, to go beyond the current regulation to give “appropriate prominence” which is open to interpretation, and extend the rules to catch-up services.
“Governments have always backed the idea that it should be easy as possible for consumers to find the trusted British programmes they’ve already paid for through the licence fee,” said a BBC source.
“As Ofcom has recommended, it is important that the rules keep pace with technology so that remains the case for the future. Government have recently updated the law so that the licence fee applies to catch-up TV via the BBC iPlayer, they now need to do the same for prominence.”
If Labour’s clause is accepted into the digital economy bill at committee stage it will still have to be accepted when the bill goes to the House of Commons.
© 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited.