UK broadcasters ‘unlikely to survive’ without overhaul to regulations, claims Ofcom

The UK’s traditional broadcasting industry ‘is unlikely to survive’ without the overhauling of broadcast laws and regulations, claims an explosive report from regulator Ofcom.

According to its review of public service broadcasting (PSB), Ofcom has found that public service content is important to audiences and the creative economy but that it is at a critical juncture.

Despite the continued success of British content and audiences taking increased value in seeing their own areas on screen, much of this is coming at the expense of traditional PSB channels – the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5.

A lot of the most highly-considered content comes from private companies like Sky and Discovery which operate outside the PSB system while the majority of younger viewers are turning towards global streaming services.

The report notes that only 38% of 2019 viewing time from 16-34 year-olds came from traditional broadcast content, compared to 67% of all adults. More concerningly, two in five streaming viewers said that they can imagine watching no broadcast TV at all within five years.

Also posing a problem for pubcasters is a ‘triple funding threat’ in the form of decreased ad revenue, the investment required to grow digital services, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In order to combat this potential decline, Ofcom has proposed that PSB laws and regulations must be radically overhauled. It notes that the rules and laws around public service broadcasting are outdated, and stem from the early days of the internet.

The regulator has called for a new framework that will establish clear goals for PSBs and give them greater choice over how they achieve them. It also has proposed quotas to safeguard vital areas such as news, with Ofcom able to hold broadcasters to account to these targets.

Ofcom has also called for the creation of new public-service media providers that could be granted prominents and availability benefits currently enjoyed by PSBs.

In addition, the regulator has suggested that PSBs develop stronger relationships with other companies, particularly on platforms and distribution, in order to help them scale quickly.

Dame Melanie Dawes

The final proposal is a new model for stable funding, with a range of options set out. These include International comparisons, full or part subscription models (a widely contentious topic when considering the BBC’s licence fee), and cross-media funding such as local or regional media funds that would support collaboration between TV, radio, online and press publishers.

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom CEO, said: “Our traditional broadcasters are among the finest in the world. But television has witnessed a blizzard of change and innovation, with audiences turning to online services with bigger budgets. For everything we’ve gained, we risk losing the kind of outstanding UK content that people really value. So there’s an urgent need to reform the rules, and build a stronger system of public-service media that can flourish in the digital age.

“That could mean big changes, such as a wider range of firms tasked with providing high-quality shows made for, in and about the UK.”

Ofcom also said that it will launch a review of how the UK production industry operates in the new year.

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