Ofcom: traditional UK broadcasting at risk without radical shakeup | Media Analysis | Business | News | Rapid TV News
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UK broadcast regulator Ofcom is warning that with funding under pressure and viewers turning away in favour of global streaming services, traditional public service broadcasting is unlikely to survive in the online world unless broadcasting laws and regulation are overhauled, and broadcasters accelerate their transformation for the digital age.
Ofcom PSB screens 8 Dec 2020 lands
As part of a consultation process that will close in March 2021, Ofcom has published a paper, Small Screen: Big Debate, to inform its recommendations to Government on how the existing public service broadcasting system can transition to a public service media system fit for the future. The paper examined how to strengthen and maintain public service broadcasting (PSB) for the next decade and beyond, in the face of unprecedented changes to technology, financing and viewer behaviour.

Fundamentally, Ofcom regards the current UK media sector is a success story, fuelled by public and private sector innovation and investment. It adds that the variety of content and services generated by this mixed system provide value to audiences across the UK and economic growth through the successful production sector. Ofcom noted that commercial investment from UK-based and international content providers has increased substantially and the UK’s production sector has grown to become a global success.

Yet even though it found that PSB content is still highly valued by audiences – with trusted, accurate news and programmes made about the UK holding particular importance – the report found that the rapidly changing media sector means the public service broadcasting system is at a critical juncture. Audiences were found to be increasingly turning away from broadcast TV and accessing content through a range of other services, making it harder for PSBs to reach and connect with them.

Indeed, Ofcom calculated that broadcast TV audiences are in decline, particularly among younger viewers. It said that during 2019, broadcast content represented only 38% of total viewing for people aged 16-34, and 67% for all audiences (including live TV, recorded playback and catch-up). The research showed that, while younger viewers do still watch and value public service programmes, they feel much less connection to the public service broadcasters. Moreover, some young people only discover content originally commissioned by PSBs, on streaming or online services.

Global platforms wield increasing power as the access point between audiences and content and also in their ability to strike worldwide deals. Ofcom warned that services such as Netflix were able to ensure they are front and centre across a wide range of TV platforms while the public service broadcasters found it increasingly difficult to secure similarly favourable terms for prominence. The review stated bluntly that no PSB, with the exception of the BBC, has the ‘must have’ characteristics, such as scale and brand engagement, needed to bargain with content aggregators.

Commercially, the paper also questioned the financial sustainability of the PSB system. It argued that traditional mass-market advertising revenues which have been the foundation of commercial PSB income are likely to be of less value as broadcast viewing declines. And that as over time, a shift to online viewing opens up new business models, including personalised, data-driven approaches to advertisers, PSBs are having to invest more to develop their online strategies, while at the same time maintaining their TV broadcasting services.

In its conclusions in the Small Screen: Big DebateSmall Screen: Big Debate, Ofcom said that a new framework was required to deliver the objectives of public service broadcasting in an increasingly online world. This it insisted must be based on a broader concept, which recognises, supports and encourages the delivery of Public Service Media (PSM), across a range of broadcast and online services.