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Unequal Treatment: Netflix Self-Rating Privilege Raises Questions for BBFC

The recent adaptation of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) fee structure has sparked concerns within the independent film distribution community. Implemented at the onset of 2023, a third tier was added to the classification cost layout. The costs for movie certification now stand at £575, £1,200, and £1,780, for films released on up to 10 screens, 11 to 50 screens, and 51 or more screens respectively, all subject to a VAT of 20%. The move, intended to accommodate the variability in cinema film releases, has inadvertently created a financial incentive for smaller distributors to curb the release of new films​.

The BBFC, originally established as the British Board of Film Censors in 1912, has a rich history of adaptation. It was created as a self-funded, non-profit entity by the film industry itself to standardise film ratings. It started with a dual classification system, which over time expanded to the current system of seven ratings. In 2023, the BBFC handles a variety of media formats, with each format subjected to additional fees​.​.

Another point of contention stems from the BBFC's decision to grant Netflix the authority to self-rate content, subject to monthly audits. This move has led some to question why similar privileges are not extended to smaller distributors, especially given the significant revenues the BBFC derives from such deals with major players like Netflix and Amazon.

The BBFC, despite reported operating losses, boasts robust financial health with capital and reserves of £12.6 million as of their 2021 annual report. In a bid to support smaller distributors, the BBFC has made a conscious effort to minimise classification fees. From 2007 to 2019, fees were reduced by 33% in real terms, and since 2019, classification costs for smaller releases have been slashed by almost half​​.

Some stakeholders, however, argue that the main issue is not about the fairness of the BBFC's costs. Instead, it's about the necessity of classification in the first place, especially for films targeting adult audiences who are less influenced by ratings. The widening gap between small indie distributors and major companies releasing blockbusters raises questions about the equitable distribution of costs and the relevance of certification for all films​.

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