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Ofcom Consultation: The Future of Public Service Broadcasting

Yesterday we brought together independent producers, production company CEOs, production facilities and digital media entrepreneurs from across the North to give their views on Public Service Broadcasting to industry regulator Ofcom.

Hosted at our MediaCityUK office, the roundtable discussion was part of Ofcom’s current review to assess the performance of the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) system and check that these broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – are living up to their public service obligations. These include, among other things, a duty to inform our understanding of the world; stimulate knowledge and learning; reflect UK cultural identity and represent diversity and alternative viewpoints.

Since the regulator’s last review in 2008, broadcasting has gone through a period of unprecedented change driven by the digital revolution, declines in sources of funding and the globalisation of media markets. Each of these changes has had an impact on PSB delivery and present risks and opportunities for the future health of the system.

Over the last decade, the up-take  of digital technology has transformed the way we consume media. Video-on-Demand services like BBC iPlayer mean that audiences across the UK are increasingly watching content online and through smart devices. As a result audience viewing habits, particularly between younger and older people, are split across many communications media and Netflix and Amazon’s streaming subscription services are turning old production and distribution models on their heads.

As competition for our attention intensifies Broadcasters must ensure they remain relevant. One way the BBC and Channel 4 are addressing this challenge is by moving more content into the online and cross-platform space – in games, apps and other digital platforms; they are using this an opportunity to create new formats and produce more innovative, challenging content to cater for diverse audience tastes.

The last few years have also been characterised by the rapid consolidation of the Independent production sector as UK content businesses become attractive targets for global investment. Seven of the biggest UK independent production companies are now owned by large global companies like Viacom, 21st Century Fox, Discovery and Liberty Global. As a result, small indie production companies are having to compete in the marketplace against huge production outfits boasting global scale and reach.

The PSB system is hugely important for our wider creative economy. Despite the proliferation of TV channels and radio stations in recent years, PSBs still account for 85% of investment in new content. However, that investment is decreasing year-on-year as sources of funding like advertising and the licence fee have come under increasing pressure. Nowhere is the decline in PSB investment more evident than in the West Midlands, East Midlands and East of England regions which, according to Ofcom, now collectively account for only 2% of network production spend.

Ofcom’s current consultation is looking for views on how the PSB system can be maintained and strengthened moving forward and how PSBs might deliver their obligations to you, the audience, in a digitally connected world. The review comes at a critical time and its findings will inform Ofcom’s recommendations to the next government, shaping not only the future of the UK’s unique PSB system but also its wider creative economy. 

Key Ofcom Stats  

  • Taken together, the PSB channels (BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC Three, BBC Four, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5) continue to account for over half of all UK television viewing. 
  • PSB investment in new non-sport UK programming is substantially down, with a 17.3% real-terms decline in programme spend. 
  • PSB spend on new original children’s programing fell by 19% in 2008-13. 
  • In 2013, for the first time less than half (49.4%) of first-run network programme hours were produced within the M25. 
  • Between 2009-2013 the UK independent production sector has grown by 3.4% on average each year; generating £2.8bn in revenue in 2013, largely as a result of increasing overseas revenues.  
  • Only 44% of audiences in England score the PSBs highly in terms of portraying their region; compared to an importance rating of 67%.  

If you missed our roundtable with Ofcom yesterday, you can still get your views heard or find out more by downloading the regulator’s consultation document here and submitting a written response by 5pm on 26th February.

  • Creative Industries