Office of Communications (Ofcom) sometimes contacted by people who’ve seen something they found harmful or offensive on a streaming – also known as a video on demand (VOD) – service like Netflix, and want to know what action Ofcom might take. The simple answer is that Ofcom does not regulate Netflix although they do regulate many other similar services.
Ofcom explain what their role is when it comes to content on streaming/VOD sites below.
- How Ofcom’s broadcast rules work
As the broadcast regulator, Ofcom has powers given to them by Parliament that allow them to protect viewers and listeners.
Ofcom enforces the rules set out in the Broadcasting Code that apply to TV and radio.
These rules are designed to protect you from harm, but also to recognise freedom of expression. They’re probably best known for the 9pm watershed, but they also cover hate speech, offensive language and product placement.
And they mean you can complain if you see something that concerns you.
These rules also apply to BBC TV and radio as well as shows you can watch on BBC’s iPlayer. However, these complaints are handled by the BBC in the first instance, then people can come to Ofcom if they’re not happy with the result. This is known as the BBC-first process.
- Where does Netflix fit into this system?
Ofcom does not regulate Netflix – it has a European base in the Netherlands and it is therefore regulated by the Dutch media regulator, the Commissariaat voor de Media.
According to Ofcom research, Netflix is the most popular subscription streaming service in the UK. Around 17 million households (60%) have a Netflix subscription, followed by Amazon Prime Video (46%) and Disney+ (23%). A fifth of homes (5.2 million) subscribe to all three.
Any complaints about shows available on Netflix should be directed to the Dutch authorities, not Ofcom.
- So which streaming (or VOD) sites do we regulate, and what does this mean for you as a viewer?
Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Paramount+, Discovery+, Hayu, ITV X and other streaming services are covered by statutory rules enforced by Ofcom.
The ODPS rules aren’t as wide-ranging as the Broadcasting Code and complaints normally go to the provider first, rather than Ofcom. But you can come directly to Ofcom if you’re concerned that a programme is harmful to children or likely to incite hatred.
Ofcom know the fact there are different rules and different standards depending on how you’re watching a programme may be confusing for viewers. This is something that the Government is looking at. It published a White Paper earlier this year which said the Government will give Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a new VOD 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.
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