Netflix, not TV, should be regulated by you

Media has been quick to highlight any legal or policy controversy from Netflix’s decision to continue giving parents guidance after an episode is complete. But issues like gender identity, children’s safety and employment issues–how the platform is regulated by governments and enterprises — have not been raised, and perhaps it is because of this nuance that neither merits necessary regulation from a government nor the tech industry’s sympathy, experts and analysts say.

“It’s not clear to me that anything there is — and it could be they’re not clear to me — that would impose a significant impact on how [streaming] is already done. There are probably some large, copyright holders that do ask questions of companies like Netflix, and I think that’s unfortunate that there’s a presumption here that if you are a major streaming service, you can always run the risk of litigation—that they should take sort of a novel approach to consumer’s rights,” says Steven Marks, senior writer at CFI Benchmarking.

He adds, however, that online video is not a new technology and thus is not, itself, regulated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Consumer Protection.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise to people that an online video platform takes different approaches to different types of content,” says Hastings, CTO of Netflix. “It’s kind of this Wild West, and the industry is going to be in flux, there will be competing approaches. But it’s not a surprise that Netflix could show a safe show and at the same time say, ‘Please download the next episode and bring it to bed with you.’ It’s just a creative approach, so I wouldn’t confuse that with something that is borderline legal,” he adds.

TV, and its broadcast peers, have always operated under regulations from broadcasters, such as allowing them to market programming before the 9 o’clock hour. Digital platforms have never had to deal with this, and so it could be that programming is broadcast at once rather than spread out. “The problem for a little while maybe is — it’s apples and oranges,” says Carl Shapiro, executive director of the Paley Center for Media.

“There’s another side of the story, which is that there isn’t really a data story behind this whole thing, which is that there are really no regulations regulating what an on-demand company has to do in terms of the number of episodes that a subscriber can download in one sitting,” Marks says. In contrast, traditional broadcast shows are made with scheduled, weekly television in mind, although limits on content have been removed.

“[In] the broadcast world, broadcast has the unique advantage of being able to say, ‘You’ve got X number of episodes. You can count on those. We have the content rights to those. You can get hold of the rest of it.’ All of that is legal, but that same model no longer exists on this new kind of on-demand channel,” he adds.

Furthermore, there is the potential for streaming platforms to have more censorship policies at any given moment based on the content or user behavior on their platform. “Maybe we’re just being social, but it’s hard to imagine that we’re not getting rid of plenty of just-because [content] once we hit the limit,” Shapiro says.

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