The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are calling for new laws to give their shows top billing in the era of on-demand internet TV viewing.
The chief executives of the UK’s biggest public service broadcasters, including STV in Scotland and S4C in Wales, have co-signed a letter calling on the government and Ofcom to guarantee their content and players prominence, so they are not buried by competitors such as Sky or Netflix.
The UK’s public service broadcasters have enjoyed the benefits of being guaranteed the top slots on traditional TV guides, thanks to legislation introduced in 2003. However, the shift in viewing habits – from the arrival of Netflix and Amazon to the introduction of algorithms to select shows viewers might like and promotion of “top picks” in advanced menus on Sky and Virgin Media – has meant many TV fans bypass the traditional electronic programme guide.
The broadcasters fear that commercial players are championing their own shows, while public service broadcasting content and services such as the iPlayer, ITV Hub and All4 are buried. For example, Netflix and Amazon often pay smart TV manufacturers for branded buttons on their remotes to give them top billing with viewers.
“There is a global commercial battle going on to shape and influence what we watch, listen to or buy in our homes,” the letter says. “Global players have a growing influence on what UK audiences discover when they turn on their screens. Increasingly they are becoming the gatekeepers to what we watch but they have little interest in reflecting UK culture, investing in the nations and regions, or ensuring the news they provide is accurate and impartial.”