On Friday 7 December 2012, Ofcom imposed a financial penalty of £60,000 (GDP) on Strictly Broadband Limited in respect of its on-demand programmes service, provided through its website, “Strictly Broadband”.
Between 31 May - 1 August 2012 users of the website could access sexually explicit R18 equivalent material (i.e. sex works the primary purpose of which is sexual arousal or stimulation usually involving clearly unsimulated sexual activity), without a system in place that would effectively restrict those under 18 from accessing it.
In July 2012, the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) - which is responsible as part of a co-regulatory regime for regulating the editorial content of on-demand programmes services - found the website in breach of its Rule 11 which states “If an on-demand programme service contains material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen, the material must be made available in a manner which secures that such persons will not normally see or hear it.”
ATVOD’s Rules and Guidance on Rule 11 requires an effective Content Access Control System (“CAC System”) verifying the user is aged 18 or over where R18 equivalent material is made available. Confirmation of ownership of a card where the card holder does not need to be 18 or over is not deemed sufficient for this purpose. If age verification does not take place each time the user returns to the service, further access to such R18 content when the user returns to the service should be controlled by the use of mandatory security measures such as passwords or PIN numbers. As “Strictly Broadband” was not in compliance with Rule 11 during the period in question, ATVOD referred “Strictly Broadband” to Ofcom for consideration of a sanction on 13 August 2012.
Ofcom sought evidence as to the breaches and considered the gravity and duration of the breaches, and their potential impact on minors and decided that the breaches were serious, repeated and reckless and therefore a financial penalty should be imposed. Ofcom also considers the financial penalty to be appropriate in relation to the deterrence it will represent to the VOD industry from committing similar breaches in the future.