VSP Regulation: Ofcom publishes final guidance on harmful material

posted on 20 October, 2021   (public)

A flexible and proportionate approach to ensure transparency both with regard to regulatory expectations and to the measures that VSPs are taking to protect viewers

On 6 October 2021, Ofcom published its final guidance for video-sharing platform (VSP) providers on regulatory requirements and measures to protect users from harmful material. Ofcom also published a statement on the consultation on draft guidance that took place earlier in the year.

This guidance is intended to support VSP providers in understanding their statutory obligations under the new regime. Guidance on specific requirements relating to advertising standards will be published separately.



New legislation applying to UK-established VSP services came into force on 1 November 2020 as a result of the transposition of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2018. From that date, VSPs established in the UK are required to take appropriate measures to protect users from harmful content, including advertising content, Ofcom being responsible for the enforcement of these new rules.

In this regard, Ofcom had already conducted several rounds of consultation on three guidance documents: “Who needs to notify Ofcom”, the “draft guidance on measures to protect users from harmful material” and "proposals for the regulation of advertising on video-sharing platforms"  respectively released in March, April and May 2021.

A list of VSPs notified to Ofcom (as of 6 October 2021) is available on the UK regulator's website and will be updated periodically. 

Key points from the guidance document

In this document, Ofcom notably provides guidance:

  • To explain the different types of harmful and restricted material 
  • to explain protection measures for consideration by VSP providers and key principles to follow when implementing such measures, such as fairness and user’s rights, ease of use, effectiveness, transparency, evolving measures 
  • to explain practicable and proportionate criteria providers must consider when determining which measures to take, including the individual characteristics of VSPs and the rights and legitimate interests of users
  •  to encourage providers to establish risk management processes to inform which measures they take and how those measures are implemented.

Ofcom’s approach to monitoring and enforcement:

  • While Ofcom acknowledges that harmful material may not be completely eradicated from a platform, they expect providers to make meaningful efforts to prevent users from encountering it.
  • Ofcom will  inform their understanding of whether users are being effectively protected, for example by monitoring complaints and engaging with interested parties such as charities, NGOs and tech safety groups
  • Ofcom emphasises in its guidance that this is a learning process, aimed at being updated and developed as platforms themselves, and the risk of harm on those platforms, will evolve. With the aim to ensure transparency both with regard to regulatory expectations from the platforms and to the measures that VSPs are taking, Ofcom will publish: annual priorities for UK-established VSPs as well as an Annual VSP Report. 
  • In case of serious concerns, enforcement may include sanctions, e.g. an enforcement notification (requiring the VSP provider to take specified actions), and/or impose a financial penalty of up to £250,000 or 5% of qualifying revenue, whichever is greater. In certain circumstances, Ofcom may also suspend and/or restrict a service.

Additional materials of relevance:

Alongside the guidance and statement, Ofcom has also published a paper titled ‘VSP Regulation – Ofcom’s plan and approach’ which sets out the UK regulator's plans and priorities for the year ahead, and a short guide for industry which provides a summary overview of the VSP requirements.

Ofcom priorities for the next twelve months: reducing the risk of child sexual abuse material on adult sites; laying the foundations for age verification on those sites; tackling online hate and terror; ensuring an age-appropriate experience on platforms popular with under-18 ; and ensuring VSPs’ processes for reporting harmful content are effective.

Transition from VSP to online safety regime:

The VSP Regime in the UK will be superseded by the online safety regime through the proposed Online Safety Bill. The VSP Regime is thus an important precursor to the future Online Safety legislation; compliance with the VSP regime will also assist services in preparing for compliance with the online safety regime. 

To avoid regulatory silos, support regulatory coordination in online services and cooperate on areas of mutual importance, Ofcom is working closely with the data protection, Competition and Financial authorities through the Digital Regulators Cooperation Forum (DRCF). 


Source: Ofcom Website