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Ofcom chief on public sector broadcasting challenges

Sharon White, head of the UK’s converged regulator, Ofcom, has set out the challenges to public service broadcasters (PSBs) in a speech. She said that people have never lost the need for a common sense of place, purpose and values and “of all the institutions that bind British society, none is better positioned to fulfil that need than public service broadcasting”. But globalisation and digital media – the same forces that heightened our need for trusted news – have led the PSBs to examine how they continue to thrive, and they face challenges such as catch-up players, with almost half of people paying for streaming services like Amazon and Netflix; fragmentation with hundreds of television channels competing for attention, as well as social media; and how to compete financially.

She said Ofcom’s role is to promote free, universal access to public-service channels and PSBs will have unchallenged access to terrestrial spectrum for the next decade or longer, and Ofcom can also keep PSB channels at the top of traditional programme guides – “We will consult on updates to the code governing electronic programme guides. We will ensure the main PSBs remain prominent; make smaller PSB channels more visible; and provide more detailed guidance to ensure the rules can be enforced.” But she warned that new digital platforms are beyond the scope of today’s regulation. “That means, if parliament believes the future health of PSBs requires prominence in on-demand services, it would need to pass new legislation… But in any sector, regulation can only go so far. And in the longer term, the value of terrestrial airwaves, and the importance of prominence on traditional set-top boxes, will decline. That means that public service broadcasters must keep adapting for the digital age.” She said that the UK’s PSBs still account for the vast majority of investment in UK-made shows – 82% of commissions in 2016.

“With their heritage, remit, regional bases and experience in genres like news and arts, PSBs are perfectly placed to create the UK content that British viewers demand. In fact, without public service broadcasting, most of this content would not get made at all.” She added that PSBs may need to collaborate with the likes of Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and Apple “to increase their bargaining power, just as they are doing with TV manufacturers. Increasingly, they will need to collaborate to compete. We will take account of that need when assessing competition in the market.” Full speech here

  • Wednesday, 21 March 2018

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