The British government has called on streaming giants including Netflix and Amazon to disclose viewing data for shows originated by UK public service broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5.
In a surprising intervention, ministers have agreed with a recommendation made by British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC), which said in March that streamers should share top-line viewing data “to enable full analysis of PSB reach.”
In its report on the future of UK public service broadcasting, the DCMSC said this data should be disclosed to both broadcasters and media regulator Ofcom. The government stopped short of recommending that Netflix hands over ratings to rivals, but said it should at least share information with Ofcom.
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In its response to the DCMSC report, published today, the government said: “We agree with the Committee that there is a case for requiring streaming services to share top line viewing data with Ofcom to assist them with their analysis and evaluation of the PSB system.”
Ministers added that they hope this can be done “on a voluntary basis in the first instance,” leaving open the possibility that the government could legislate data sharing should streamers be unwilling to be transparent about how shows like Fleabag (Amazon) and Peaky Blinders (Netflix) are performing on their services.
Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and others are notoriously guarded about releasing viewing figures. In evidence to the DCMSC, Netflix and Amazon argued that it would be commercially sensitive to disclose such information.
The DCMSC disagreed. “We do not believe that sharing top line viewer data about PSB-originated content with Ofcom and the relevant the PSB would be commercially sensitive. Streaming services are an important ‘second window’ for PSB content but without viewer data, it is difficult to fully assess the reach of PSBs,” the lawmakers said in March.
The data debate comes against the backdrop of public service broadcasters fighting for relevance in a market increasingly dominated by U.S. media giants. They want their output to have guaranteed prominence in an era when viewers are reaching for the Netflix library rather than the traditional TV guide.
The committee also recommended that streamers include the branding of UK broadcasters around their originals. Netflix already does this on most UK broadcaster shows, such as Channel 4’s BAFTA-winning The End of the F…ing World, which includes a Channel 4 logo in the thumbnail and a sting for the broadcaster before the drama streams.
The government said branding was a commercial matter. “The relationship between PSBs and subscription video on demand services (SVoDs) is not straightforward, particularly where PSB content is hosted on streaming services. It is the Government’s view that the issues the Committee has identified relating to brand attribution and data sharing are a matter for contractual negotiations in the first instance,” it said.