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Ofcom calls for changes to UK public service broadcasting regulation

Posted on: December 9, 2020 by Mariella Brown

Streaming services such as Netflix and Disney could be encouraged to offer public service programming as part of calls to redress prominence on online television platforms, Ofcom has said.

The media regulator has warned that traditional broadcasters are “unlikely to survive” in the online world in the face of competition from streaming sites.

The recommendations, which came as part of a consultation published by Ofcom, would require connected television providers to make space on homepages for public service broadcasters (PSBs), alongside exploring how public funding could be made available to new providers of public-service content.

There is also potential for cross-media funding, the media regulator added, proposing a local or regional media fund which would support collaboration between TV, radio, online and press publishers to strengthen local news.

Audiences are increasingly turning away from traditional PSB channels – the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – in favour of global streaming and online services.

Ofcom warned that public service broadcasting is at a “critical juncture” with only 38% of 16-34-year-olds viewing traditional broadcast content and 67% among all adults. The report added that one in four viewers of streaming services say they can imagine watching no broadcast TV at all in five years’ time.

Responding to the report, Ofcom Chief Executive Melanie Dawes said the future could hold big changes to avoid risk losing the outstanding UK content that people really value.

Dawes said: “There’s an urgent need to reform the rules, and build a stronger system of public-service media that can flourish in the digital age.

“That could mean big changes, such as a wider range of firms tasked with providing high-quality shows made for, in and about the UK.”

A vision for the future has been set out to preserve what the media regulator says are the vital benefits of public service broadcasting. The recommendations include:

  • Laws and regulation must be overhauled. The rules and laws around public service broadcasting largely date from when the internet was still in its infancy – and they remain focused on traditional broadcasting. Without radical changes to support PSBs’ shift from traditional broadcasting to online, the challenges facing them may become acute. We are calling for a new framework to establish clear goals for public service broadcasters, with greater choice over how they achieve them, and quotas to safeguard vital areas such as news. Companies should be required to set out, measure and report on their plans, with Ofcom holding them to account. We are also inviting views on changes to rules that will ensure PSB content is carried on different online platforms. In the New Year we will launch a review of how the UK production industry operates.
  • Other companies could become public-service media providers. Alongside the content provided by existing PSBs, new providers could help deliver public-service media in future.This new content could focus on specific groups of people or types of programme. New providers could offer different skills, expertise and online experience – leading to wider benefits to audiences and the economy.
  • A new model for stable funding. Given funding pressures, public service media needs stable revenues to support creative risk-taking, innovation and efficient long-term planning. Public funding decisions are a matter for Government, so we have set out a range of options, including international comparisons, outlining the benefits and drawbacks. These include full or part subscription models. There is also potential for cross-media funding – such as a local or regional media fund, supporting collaboration between TV, radio, online and press publishers to strengthen local news.
  • Partnerships could help PSBs to compete – as well as connect with audiences. Deeper relationships between PSBs and other companies – particularly on platforms and distribution – could help them compete more effectively with global players, and reach wider audiences. Shared research and development, performance data and back-office activities could also reduce costs, improve efficiencies and aid innovation.

Ofcom will consult on the report before making recommendations to the government next year.

The final findings will contribute to the government’s own consultation into the future of PSBs, announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden in November.

Read Ofcom’s report in full here.