Sky’s Darroch calls for OTT regulation crackdown

Jeremy Darroch, CEO of Sky, has called on Europe’s policy makers to ensure a level regulatory playing field, suggesting that licensed broadcasters such as Sky are disadvantaged having to compete against global online platforms.

Delivering a speech on TV, Technology and Policy at an audiovisual policy conference in Tallinn, Estonia, Darroch noted that much of the debate about the future of Europe’s audio-visual industry had been coloured by a fear that the internet would destroy broadcasters’ business models, but countered that Sky had been successful with its online initiatives. “But that is not to say that the way the digital giants operate and are regulated doesn’t create some enormous challenges,” he warned. “When paying taxes, employing people and complying with the law are competitive disadvantages, you know that you have a problem. And you don’t need me to tell you that the future of our economy and society is at risk if we leave the playing field uneven.”

“Sky is in millions of Europe’s living rooms, we are trusted to provide entertainment and news to the different generations and to do so safely. At a time when there are serious questions over the veracity, safety and legality of much of the content to be found on the Internet, television remains the gold standard reference point for responsibility,” he asserted.

“And we take our responsibilities extremely seriously, from the scheduling of programmes to protect minors, the highly prescriptive consumer protection rules on advertising and the TV news channels like Sky News and TG 24 in Italy that must be accurate and impartial,” he advised.

According to Darroch, compliance with rules was not a burden but “a stamp of quality and trust”, with transparency over who produces and funds news  a fundamental part of an open society and European traditions. “Contrast this with the global online platforms with their clickbait, bots and fake news. Where there is no regulation, no accountability and little transparency,” he noted.

“And yet we are in strange times. We increasingly see our carefully-regulated content and our socially-responsible services appearing on the same devices and screens side by side with a completely unregulated free for all. That is not good for our customers, it is not good for our industry and it is not good for our society. The TV screen used to be the safe space. No longer,” he declared.

“Not so many years ago, Internet companies were small and pretty un-influential. Today, they are some of the largest companies on the planet with a reach and scale of financial resources far exceeding that of previous media and communications companies. We are regulated because of our impact on society, yet their impact on society today is arguably much greater,” he contended, bemoaning the fact that they face none of the scrutiny or regulation that broadcasters meet.

“It’s a lop-sided contest and left unchecked, represents a real challenge where European champions and national broadcasters, be they public or private, will suffer. At best, our valued standards of content are being eroded; at worst, fundamentally undermined,” he warned.

“It poses a direct economic and cultural threat too. Many of the global internet platforms are a safe haven for illegal streams and downloads which exploit the intellectual property that the creative sector has invested billions in. Their businesses often profit from the sale of adverting or monetise user data around content regardless of its provenance, legality or safety,” he said.

“We are faced with one set of rules governing the exploitation of intellectual property by broadcasters, publishers and even state institutions while at the same time global internet companies have to take no responsibility for what is uploaded to their platforms and often only cursory responsibility for removing illegal content when informed of it. This hits the smaller creators hardest, like many of those directors and producers at the Tallinn Film Festival, who are too small to have the time and resources to fight the piracy of their content,” he noted.

“It is to be welcomed that the Commission has issued guidelines on how tech platforms should respond to notices informing them of illegality, but it is a long way from the broad set of rules that should govern exploitation of IP in the digital world,” he suggested.

“Online safety is one of the biggest issues of our time and it is about time we asked the question: why is there the least regulation where there is the most danger for viewers? Our society and our industry face a tsunami of harms online from fake news to extremism, from theft of identity to theft of content. Everyone is struggling to navigate a path through a largely lawless Internet landscape,” he noted.

“It is entirely legitimate for us, for you as policy makers, to ask what more the technology sector can do to protect both citizens and creators in the online world. And I would challenge whether legislators are creating the right regulatory environment for technology firms to change the way they look after our safety,” he stated.

“When it comes to broadcasting, regulation is seen as a valuable condition that guarantees the trustworthy and responsible flow of information. This is the opposite of censorship that the opponents to Internet rules sometimes claim. It is no longer good enough to say the Internet is untouchable and beyond the norms that the rest of our society has to operate to. That includes, by the way, the tax that firms operating in the Internet economy are expected to pay.”

“We in the EU now have the chance to set an example to the world and to make the Internet a safer more responsible place, rather than the wild jungle that EU Commissioners have recently described it. The Digital Single Market strategy is a laudable initiative but now it is time for a Digital Safety Market strategy.”

“Europe’s audio-visual industry has never been more creative and our culture has never been more in demand. Technology, far from destroying what we value, has enabled us to reach new audiences and opened up a golden age of storytelling that our companies, authors and artists are poised to benefit from. But the traditional role we play in society is threatened by the lack of a level playing field and a race to the bottom is in no one’s interests. A confident Europe can take the initiative and create a new framework that engenders trust, promotes transparency and establishes fairness in the digital age,” he declared.

“Creators are looking to Europe for this leadership, but so are other countries. Where Europe goes, the world will follow, and consumers, the Internet and the creative economy are depending on it,” he concluded.

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