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Lords debate updating EPG rules

Update 3 | Public service broadcasters are rallying around proposals which will extend the rules on how prominent their programmes and services have to appear on Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs).

The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 currently benefit from legislation made in 2003 that forces platform operators to place their channels in the first five positions of their on-screen guide. But changes in viewing habits and an increase on-demand services has watered down the prominence given to linear channels.

Newer connected platforms place on-demand services or recommendation screens first when navigating screens, which means that content from commercial operators such as Amazon, Netflix or Sky can receive greater prominence on some platforms.

The House of Lords was due to discuss this and other amendments to the Digital Economy Bill on Monday, but discussions about prominence of public service programmes were pushed back to Wednesday 22nd March, and then subsequently delayed due to the Westminster Terrorist Attack.

Making the case for the BBC, James Purnell, Director for Radio and Education at the broadcaster said that some pay-TV platforms are already making “free-to-air” services harder to find, meaning there's "no point" being at the top of the programme guide if it's difficult to find the guide", singling out Sky's new premium service, Sky Q.  The BBC argues that the public should be able to easily find content that it has paid for through the licence fee. The BBC also wants to force Sky to carry its children's channels CBBC and CBeebies at the start of the children's section, ahead of US children's channels in order to promote British children's television.

ITV, for whom EPG prominence is one of the last remaining drivers for it to retain local news and other public service obligations, also said it supported the move to update legislation.

Meanwhile, Channel 4's Dan Brooke told The Guardian that “this proposed update is vital to ensure that audiences can continue to easily find the high-quality programmes that they love most from Channel 4."

Already, the advance of high definition television channels has watered down linear EPG prominence, with platform operators that offer EPG swaps for HD versions of channels only able to replace standard definition versions of channels in the first five positions if the HD version has the same level of regionality as the SD channel, and only with the broadcaster's consent. As a result, an increasing number of viewers have to scroll down the list to find BBC One HD and ITV HD in England on Sky and Freesat, whereas in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, BBC Two HD is effectively demoted.

Sky as well as newspapers hostile to the BBC have objected to the legislative update.