BBC should take care in foreign programming acquisitions, says Ofcom’s Richards

Ofcom is not planning any imminent analysis into the size and scope of the BBC and its impact on the commercial market, despite the public broadcaster’s proposed plans to reduce its spending on imported programming and to enforce rules curbing the activities of commercial arm BBC Worldwide. However, the CEO of the communications regulator Ed Richards believes the BBC needs to be careful about investing in foreign content.

Speaking at the FT Digital Media and Broadcasting Conference this morning, Richards said the BBC should be tactful about how much it spends on foreign programming and the impact it has on the commercial market. “It’s a difficult one for the BBC,” he said. “When the commercial market is willing to invest in [foreign programming], it becomes a very pointed question for BBC channel and finance controllers as to how much to spend. In a period where the BBC is generously funded, which it has been recently, you want to see real care into how this is managed in the context of the commercial market.”

Richards also said Ofcom did not have the remit to decide to investigate the scope of the BBC. “We would have to be asked to do it,” he said. “For aggregated analysis of public service broadcasting, we’re probably scheduled to do it in around two years time. We would have to take the lead from the government to bring that forward.”

Richard said that past analysis from Ofcom revealed that there was “not much evidence” that the UK pay-TV market is smaller than other European countries, even though it is home to a “stronger public broadcaster”. He also said there wasn’t any evidence of the “crowding out of the ad side of the market”.