Makers of smart speakers, including Amazon and Google, will have to offer all licensed UK radio stations access to their platforms as part of the biggest government overhaul of broadcasting rules in 20 years.
The requirement will be included in the long-awaited media bill, which will be introduced in parliament on Wednesday and will regulate online streaming platforms for the first time, while updating the rules for traditional broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
The draft legislation will give regulator Ofcom oversight of content available from services such as Netflix and Disney, a move the government said would “level the playing field” for UK-based broadcasters.
The inclusion of a guarantee that all UK licensed radio stations must be made available on smart speakers was welcomed by the industry. “It’s only sensible that the government introduces safeguards for the future that will guarantee consumer choice and support the public value provided by UK radio services,” said Matt Payton, chief executive of RadioCentre, the industry body representing commercial radio stations.
Around a quarter of live radio audiences access content online. More than half of the online audience use smart speakers, such as Amazon’s Alexa, according to Radio Joint Audience Research, and this trend is expected to accelerate. Commercial radio stations have expressed concerns that without regulation, the makers of smart speakers would be able to restrict access to their platforms and undermine the sector’s advertising business model.
The two biggest makers of smart speakers are Amazon, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Google, which declined to comment.
“Technology has revolutionised the way people enjoy TV and radio,” said culture secretary Lucy Frazer. “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.”
The bill will also give state-owned Channel 4 the right to produce some of its own content, instead of licensing it from other studios after the government scrapped plans to privatise the broadcaster. The bill also gives the broadcaster a new legal duty to ensure its commercial sustainability.
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said that the bill was “long overdue”, adding: “British TV and radio producers need to be better protected and promoted in the streaming age.”