The British government has called on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime to disclose viewing data for content from U.K public service broadcasters (PSBs) such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and ViacomCBS’ Channel 5. This includes shows like Fleabag and Peaky Blinders which originated from these companies.
As reported by Deadline, government ministers agreed with a recommendation made by British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC), which said (back in March) streamers should share viewing data with U.K broadcasters and media regulator Ofcom. The move will assist the communications regulator with their analysis and evaluation of the PSB system.
Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Apple have always been protective of their streaming data, only sharing viewership numbers for their most-streamed exclusives. HBO Max and Disney+ also keep their viewing information guarded.
In most cases, third parties are tasked with reporting how many people tuned in for a specific show. On the rare occasion that they do announce opening weekend viewing numbers for popular series like Loki or WandaVision, they usually refrain from sharing the exact statistics.
In response to the DCMSC’s recommendation, Netflix and Amazon said it would be “commercially insensitive” to reveal their viewership data. While a little cagey, the reaction from these companies isn’t all that surprising. If the data is made public, it also becomes freely available to rival streamers making it bad for business.
However, in a statement issued in March, the DCMSC disagreed, arguing that streaming sites are an important “second window” for PSB content. But without viewer data, it’s difficult to fully assess the reach of PSBs.
Additionally, ministers said they hope streaming data can be disclosed voluntarily in the first instance. If streaming services are unwilling to be transparent about how shows like Fleabag (Amazon) and Peaky Blinders (Netflix) are performing, the U.K government could legislate data sharing, making it mandatory.
The DCMSC also suggested that streaming sites should include the branding for UK public service broadcasters on their series. Interestingly, this is something Netflix has already been doing with BAFTA-winning The End of the F***ing World, which features the logo for the U.K’s Channel 4 in its thumbnail. A notice for the broadcaster also appears at the start of each episode.
The data debate comes amid an ongoing struggle for various public service broadcasters to remain relevant, as the market is increasingly being dominated by media giants from the United States. As such PSBs want their output to have guaranteed prominence in an era when viewers often opt for the Netflix library instead of the traditional TV guide.
Moreover, the government officials said branding was a commercial matter because the relationship between PSBs and subscription video-on-demand services (SVoDs) is “not straightforward”, especially where PSB content is hosted on streaming services. The government believes that the issues identified by the committee relating to brand attribution and data sharing are a “matter for contractual negotiations in the first instance.”