UK regulator calls for public service media fit for the digital age | Major Businesses | Business | News | Rapid TV News
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UK broadcast regulator Ofcom has issued recommendations for what it calls a “radical” overhaul of laws to ensure that public service media survives and thrives in the online age with public service media able to create opportunities for new content makers.
Ofcom PSB screens 8 Dec 2020 lands
The regulator’s recommendations to UK Government mark the conclusion of a review on the future of public service media (PSM), the Small Screen: Big Debate report. This calls for the renewal of the PSM system to ensure it can flourish for the next decade and beyond. Public Service Media is also central to the UK creative economy, with around £3bn spent each year on new commissions across a broad range of genres. The consultation received over 100 responses audiences of all ages and backgrounds right across the UK, and met with broadcasters, streaming services, academics and analysts in the UK and abroad.

The study revealed consensus on two fundamental issues – the importance of PSM for UK viewers, and the urgent need to update the system to ensure its future sustainability. In addition, said Ofcom it was clear that public service programming remains highly valued by UK audiences, and the pandemic has only served to reinforce its role in society.

The research emphasised the importance viewers place on high-quality, trusted and accurate news with what was called “a passion” for soaps, drama and live sports, as well as programmes which reflect the diversity of the UK’s nations and regions. But, with global competition intensifying, viewers were no longer bound by television schedules and are able to pick and choose content from a range of online providers and platforms. Given these changes, Ofcom warned that the UK’s broadcasting industry was facing its greatest challenge.

“Our creative sector is the envy of the world, but public service media is facing a triple threat – from large global players, viewers turning towards online services, and increasing funding pressures. If we’re to preserve public service media and its outstanding content for future generations, change needs to happen – and fast,” said Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes. “That’s why we’re recommending the biggest shake-up to public service broadcasting in twenty years. Our plan of action sets out how the industry, Government and Ofcom can together build a stronger system of public service media that can thrive in the digital age.”

To secure the future of PSM, Ofcom said UK broadcasters must accelerate their digital plans if they are to maintain a strong link with audiences, and the regulatory system also needs to be urgently updated.

The Small Screen: Big Debate report called on the UK Government to bring forward primary legislation to make key four actions: modernise the PSM objectives; update availability and prominence rules to include digital platforms; update production rules for PSM content; update the rules for PSM providers.

It said new legislation should secure and strengthen PSM’s most important features: a broad range of programming that reflects all parts of the UK, and the ability to engage the widest possible audiences. There should also be a new objective to support the UK’s creative economy. It added that new rules were needed to require PSM providers to offer their on-demand services to popular TV platforms. In turn, platforms should be required to include and give appropriate prominence to PSM content. Ofcom believes that it should be given monitoring and enforcement powers, including the ability to resolve commercial disputes.

Ofcom also saw it as necessary that commissioning rules designed to support independent productions should apply to all PSM content, regardless of whether it is commissioned for broadcast TV or online. This would include programmes exclusively shown on online services. Finally, it noted that broadcast licences need modernising to cover content produced across broadcast TV and online and so PSM providers should also be afforded flexibility to innovate and respond to technological and market changes. Quotas should remain to secure important PSM programming, like news, and to safeguard the quality of traditional broadcast TV for those audiences who continue to rely on them.