The future of public service broadcasting Contents


The past decade has seen the widespread uptake of streaming services and the use of internet-connected devices. The gradual shift from a broadcast to an internet model for the delivery of television and radio is making it harder for public service broadcasters (PSBs) to reach audiences and fulfil their remits.

Throughout this inquiry, we have received almost 100 written submissions and held evidence sessions with broadcasters, platforms, Ofcom and academics. We have found that support for the principles behind public service broadcasting remains strong. Public service broadcasting provides universal access to high-quality content, free at the point of use. PSBs are a vital tool against misinformation in an age of social media, providing accurate, reliable and trusted news. Public service broadcasting provides a wide range of programming which aims to serve the needs of all the UK’s varied and diverse population, and PSBs underpin a production ecology that generates significant returns to the UK economy. However, the legislation underpinning public service broadcasting was enacted in 2003, well before the steep rise in popularity and availability of streaming and internet-delivered services. In short, the Communications Act 2003 is no longer fit for purpose.

Action is now required in four key areas. First, new primary legislation is urgently needed to replace the Communications Act 2003. In particular, the new legislation needs to update the rules around prominence to ensure that the PSB compact is sustainable within the new, increasingly internet-based audio-visual landscape.

Secondly, the way in which platforms operate in the UK needs to be addressed. Increasingly, PSBs are having to distribute content on third party platforms (such as social media) in order to reach younger audiences. The remit of the newly formed Digital Markets Unit should be expanded to consider whether the dominance of online platforms gives them undue influence over the distribution of, and access to, PSB content.

Thirdly, action is needed in respect to representation, diversity, and the provision of Nations and Regions content. Requirements for diversity reporting need to be extended to streaming services and after years of little improvement, Ofcom needs to look at ways to expedite progress on diversity on- and off-screen. Given recent cost-saving measures, there also needs to be a review of the quality and relevance of regional provision across the UK.

Finally, the issue of how PSBs are funded must be tackled by the Government. If PSBs are to continue to provide linear broadcasting whilst also investing in on-demand provision, they require adequate funding to do so. For publicly funded PSBs, uncertainty regarding decriminalisation and the future of the licence fee needs to be removed. For commercial PSBs, the Digital Markets Unit needs to address the lack of competition and regulation in online advertising.

Published: 25 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement