Disney Opposing Potential New UK Streaming Service Regulations

Jonathan D

Disney Opposing Potential New UK Streaming Service Regulations

As some revisions and expansions to the regulation of streaming services work their way through the Parliament of the United Kingdom, legal counsel for The Walt Disney Company is opposing the changes, per MSN and Variety.

Parliament Seeking Changes to Streaming Regulation

consideration London Houses of Parliament
Source: Britannica

Some of the proposals include:

  • Requiring streaming service providers to email their subscribers every six months to remind them they are still subscribed and being charged for their subscription.
  • Mandating providers give a 14-day “cooling-off period” to subscribers, in which individuals may receive a full refund if they choose not to keep the service.
  • Forcing content creators to approach sensitive social and political topics with objectivity and impartiality (part of a different bill from the previous two proposals).

On that last point, this new regulation primarily means placing platforms like Disney+, Netflix, or Max under the purview of Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s media regulator. According to a press release from the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport, a new “content code” for Ofcom seeks to “protect audiences from a wider range of harmful material — such as misleading health claims.”

BBC logo

The main provided reason for this push to place streaming services under media regulation is to “level the playing field” with traditional television and radio outlets, also seeking to protect broadcasters such as ITV or the BBC by ensuring their on-demand services are as easily discoverable on smart TVs as a major corporate enterprise from outside the UK like Prime Video, for example. Culture Minister Lucy Frazer elaborates:

The battle to attract and retain audiences has never been more fierce. British content and production is world leading but changes to viewing habits have put traditional broadcasters under unprecedented pressure. These new laws will level the playing field with global streaming giants, ensuring they meet the same high standards we expect from public service broadcasters and that services like iPlayer and ITVX are easy to find however you watch TV.

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The Walt Disney Company is clearly not excited by some of these proposals, already sending statements of protest to the British government. In a message to the Lords Communications and Digital Committee, they argued that the requirement to remind subscribers they are subscribed is unnecessary since they claim they already provide clear notice to their users.

The combination of the market imperatives, consumer preferences, our practice of providing timely and clear notice of the recurring fee and the ease of terminating the agreement should obviate the need for mandated renewal notices.

Additionally, in their communication with the government, Disney argued the 14-day cool-off would allow people to take advantage of the service, watch a new show or two, and immediately cancel their subscription for free.

[The 14-day cooling off period] would allow these bad actors to benefit from our service without compensation to the detriment of the vast majority of good actors as it could likely result in a price increase given the reduction in the subscriber base and the high cost of producing high-quality content.

The Basics of Parliament

HOC Chamber scaled 1
Source: Parliament of the United Kingdom

For those who may not fully understand how legislative governing works across the pond, there are similarities. Any new bill usually goes through two houses. Here, the House of Representatives and Senate form Congress; there, the House of Commons (pictured above) and House of Lords (below) form Parliament. The House of Commons comprises 650 members elected by the people from constituencies in Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The party with a majority of seats (or sometimes, a coalition or confidence-and-supply agreement between multiple parties) forms the Government, while the largest party not in Government serves as the Opposition.

Source: Government of the United Kingdom

The House of Lords derives from an older, more monarch-centric time and is appointed, not elected (which used to be the case for the United States Senate before 1913); however, various reforms have been made recently regarding how they are appointed and how long they serve. The power of this House has been greatly reduced over the centuries, mostly yielding to the elected House of Commons. It is one of the oldest institutions on Earth and was a major step forward in giving people a voice in how they were governed.

Lords may still introduce bills or propose amendments to bills, but they can no longer prevent bills proposed in the House of Commons from becoming law, instead only having the authority to delay a bill’s implementation by one year.

In some ways, this has made the House of Lords seem like more of an advisory council, getting into the details of potential laws. They have no authority to call for an election or vote to truncate the term of a Prime Minister or Government — only the House of Commons does. They also are barred from delaying bills regarding taxes or public funds for more than a month, and any veto from the Lords’ chamber can be overridden by the House of Commons.

According to the Salisbury-Addison Convention, Lords also cannot oppose the passage of any Government legislation that was promised in a public election at a second or third reading. In some circumstances, bills can also become laws (otherwise known as achieving “Royal Assent”) without the consent of the House of Lords.

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Source: NBC News

Currently, the Conservative Party comprises the Government, with Rishi Sunak serving as Prime Minister, whilst Keir Starmer of the Labour Party is the active Leader of the Opposition. Generally speaking, these have been the two largest UK political parties in recent memory, though the Scottish National Party (SNP), Liberal Democrats, and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have each held considerable sway at various points throughout the last few decades, especially when no party was able to achieve a majority.

Legal Complications for Disney

The official website for the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland describes these mew media initiatives as changes that will “help bring more great shows to British screens and airwaves.” It includes measures to ease content regulations for British radio stations, be more flexible about what type of programming public service broadcasters are required to show, and mandate smart speakers made by Google, Amazon, or others ensure access to all licensed UK radio stations. The bulk of the reforms target streaming platforms, though, and while there are new requirements to provide more captions, sign language, and audio description to films and shows, placing these streaming content providers under a regulatory body is the primary aim.

According to Ofcom, younger adults watch almost seven times less broadcast TV than those aged 65 and over. Nine out of ten 18-24 year old adults bypass TV channels and head straight to streaming services. Ofcom notes that one in five UK households, or 5.2 million homes, are signed up to all three of the most popular streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+. But most video-on-demand services are not covered by Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, which sets the content standards for harmful, offensive and accurate material found on television. Some services are not regulated in the UK at all.

This would likely impact Disney+ streaming operations in dramatic ways throughout that country, prompting such a disapproving response from the company.

bob iger ron desantis

Back in the United States of America, Disney is in the midst of a massive legal battle between its Florida properties and Governor Ron DeSantis, along with his personally-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board. Check out some of the latest updates below.

The US Supreme Court has also re-opened an intellectual property rights-related lawsuit against Disney over their character Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear, who appeared in “Toy Story 3” back in 2010.

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