Written evidence submitted by the Walt Disney Company
RESPONSE OF THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY
TO THE DEPARMENT FOR DIGITAL, CULTURE, MEDA AND SPORT SELECT COMMITTEE’S CALL FOR EVIDENCE ON
PRE-LEGISLATIVE SCRUTINY OF THE DRAFT MEDIA BILL
The Walt Disney Company appreciates the opportunity to respond to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s (Select Committee) Call for Evidence on the Draft Media Bill. Disney shares Government’s commitment to offering meaningful audience protections to consumers. Indeed, we take seriously our commitment to provide a safe and reliable service for family-friendly content. We work hard to provide consumers, including parents, with a range of relevant tools that empower them to choose the content they deem appropriate for them and their families. Providing reliable information and audience protection measures is an integral part of our brand promise to our consumers.
Proportionality of the Standards Code and Other Audience Protection Measures:
The Standards Code:
The Draft Bill recommends that the Video on Demand (VoD) code include “appropriate standards for content including harmful or offensive material, accuracy, fairness and privacy”, as well as “due impartiality”.
Our existing practices in this regard include the following:
Protections from Harm and Offence:
We have deployed the Stories Matter Initiative as part of our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion:
On Disney+ the following advisory appears before identified titles: “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe”.
Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy:
National Geographic has robust fact-checking standards and a factual review process for its documentary content;
In this respect, the process includes an assessment of every project for factual accuracy and editorial appropriateness (either prior to commissioning, during production, in post-production, or all three). And, all shows produced for National Geographic must submit an annotated script which provides authoritative sources for all assertions of fact in the program.
Fairness and Privacy:
Disney implements a robust and comprehensive global privacy program based on the principles of privacy by design, accountability, transparency and giving consumers meaningful controls over their personal data.
Disney has invested in a privacy compliance program designed to make sure that we fully assess and document data collection that takes place across our digital experiences globally, including our websites, mobile applications and other connected platforms.
These existing practices reflect our commitment to the principles proposed by Government for the Standards Code. Having said that, it will be critical that the application of the rules developed by Ofcom reflect the differences between linear and non-linear services. Linear services push scheduled programming to consumers and therefore control what and when audiences watch the content. Non-linear services on the other hand, offer a library of content with subscribers choosing what programmes to watch and when. The library of content can be both recent and catalogue programming. Therefore, the Bill should make clear that the Code must adequately and appropriately address these fundamental differences.
Disney+ launched in in the UK in March 2019 with our general entertainment catalogue, Star, launching in February 2021. With the launch of the Star catalogue, we deployed a rating system that includes seven age-based ranges: 0, 6+, 9+, 12+, 14+, 16+ and 18, see a comparative table below. The criteria for our UK ratings are based on numerous inputs, including cross-referencing against pre-existing BBFC ratings. We are confident that these age-based numerical ratings, combined with our parental controls, ensure parents have clear information and effective tools to execute their choices.
Moreover, we welcome input on our ratings system and determinations for individual programmes. Indeed, we have an ongoing dialogue with the BBFC and several MPs and peers, with which and whom we have a very constructive relationship and for which we have high respect. Their input has been very helpful and appreciated.
It is also important to recognise that we operate a global service. The global nature of the service, the Disney brand promise and the fact that we offer more granular ratings than the BBFC sometimes results in slight differences between the Disney+ rating and a BBFC rating. However, we work to minimise these differences within the context of the different ratings systems.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, we are pleased to note that we have to date received no complaints about our ratings system from our subscribers.
Over and above our ratings system, we have deployed corresponding parental controls and other effective tools to help subscribers of Disney+ manage their audience protection choices and preferences, which we outline below:
PIN control system, whereby a four-digit code can be set at the profile level to restrict members of the household from exiting their profile and entering the profile of another family member;
Filter by rating at profile level (maturity settings), which enables households to restrict the suitability of content for each profile based on the ratings of specific pieces of content;
Restricted content filtering, which provides the ability to restrict content from being searched/viewed at the profile level, based on the content rating setting;
Auto-play, whereby the next episode of a series automatically begins playing can be turned off and is turned off by default on kids’ profiles;
Kid’s profile on Disney+, which is the space for our youngest audiences to engage with positive content that has been purposefully curated by people, not algorithms;
Kid-proof exit from kid’s profile, which incorporates an additional lock that needs to be decoded in order to exit a kid profile.
As noted above, VOD is a pull technology rather than a push system and subscribers have direct control over what they watch and when they watch it. The subscription process and online nature of the service makes parental control functionality easy to use and accessible to consumers in a timely way. For example, Disney+ builds relevant audience protection choices, including parental controls, into its subscription registration process such that subscribers do not need to search for the functionality – and those choices can be changed at any time through easily identifiable and usable means. On the other hand, the protections on linear can be less accessible simply by the nature of the service and its more limited functionality.
Therefore, given the differences between linear broadcasting and VOD, the robust audience protection measures put in place by most VOD services, the varying consumer propositions and brand promises made by different VOD services, it seems inappropriate to apply uniform rules on all VOD services, whether that is strict content rules or mandated ratings. Therefore, we support the Government’s proposal in the Draft Bill to grant Ofcom powers to review and assess the effectiveness of audience protection measures (such as age ratings, content warnings and parental controls). We are confident that Ofcom, as a trusted, evidence based and independent regulator will ensure that audience protection measures deployed by VOD services are easily understandable, clear and easy to use.
This approach offers numerous benefits. First, it will incentivise all services to provide easily identifiable and usable audience protection measures, combatting consumer confusion if it exists. Second, it will promote innovation in audience protection among service providers. Rather, imposing conformity could inadvertently constitute a floor rather than a ceiling in audience protection measures and undercut such innovation that competition spurs. Third, it offers Government and Ofcom the ability to meaningfully assess the marketplace as it evolves, including the level of harm, if any. As a result, the experience and data collected by Ofcom will result in a trusted independent assessment of the various systems deployed by providers, prior to considering the need for consistent rules across all VOD services.
We have taken good note of the proposed accessibility provisions and are confident that Disney+ currently meets the obligations as set forth in the Draft Bill. We also appreciate confirmation from Government that Ofcom retains the ability to extend its existing practice of allowing providers to contribute to a signing organisation, such as the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust (BSLBT), in lieu of compliance with the signing obligation. We believe our ongoing relationship with the BSLBT is constructive and is the best means for us to contribute to advancing signing.
We hope that Select Committee finds these comments useful. In closing we would like to reiterate that at Disney, providing meaningful audience protections is part of our brand promise. We would therefore welcome the opportunity to provide the Committee and its members additional information or clarification on any points addressed herein. Finally, we look forward to pro-actively and constructively engaging with Ofcom at the earliest opportunity given the important role it will play in protecting audiences pursuant to the Media Bill once adopted.