The future of public service broadcasting Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.For public service broadcasting to prosper in the future the Government will need to act—changes that require ministerial authority are needed in order to ensure that the public service broadcasting system remains sustainable in the context of today’s greatly expanded and increasingly global media market. (Paragraph 12)

Public service broadcasting: still relevant?

2.Despite the long-term decline in viewing, we recognise that linear television remains crucial to certain audiences. (Paragraph 16)

3.Universality is at the heart of public service broadcasting and should remain so. Linear broadcast television by PSBs remains important and with delays to full fibre broadband rollout, a wholly online public service broadcasting system allowing for universal access is not yet viable. During the current period of transition, whilst a significant amount of content is being made available online, the interests of consumers who rely on linear TV must be preserved. Ofcom continues to tell PSBs to do more with less, but does not detail how they expect this to be done. Expectations for, and the remits of, public service broadcasters have to be realistic in relation to the available funding. Expectations for, and the remits of, public service broadcasters have to be realistic in relation to the available funding. If budgets are going to continue to decline in real terms, the Government should review the expectations set for PSBs. (Paragraph 24)

4.The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the role that PSB content can play in bringing the country together creating shared national experiences and providing access to topical, UK-specific information and entertainment. (Paragraph 28)

5.The pandemic has reinforced the critical importance of free and easy access to trusted news sources. At a time of crisis, audiences have shown that they value the PSBs. PSBs have played a role in tackling the spread of misinformation online, and broadcast news specials have played a crucial role is disseminating essential information to the general population. However, in the case of Amazon and Google’s refusal to allow the BBC editorial oversight of its Covid-19 content and information hosted on their smart speakers, it would appear that these platforms have prioritised control of information over journalistic integrity. (Paragraph 35)

6.The pandemic has reinforced the importance of local and regional-specific news provision. The provision of news to Nations and Regions should not suffer further as a result of budgetary restraints. We perceive a real risk to the provision of regional-specific news programming, and we are adamant that the quality, and relevance to local people, of programming for the Nations and Regions must not be further jeopardised. Regional news programming must be representative of, and relevant to, the audiences it is broadcast to. We recommend that Ofcom undertake a review into the quality and relevance of the local and regional news provision, to be reported on before the new BBC Charter negotiations begin. (Paragraph 40)

7.Reaching younger audiences now, and building relationships with them, is of the utmost importance if PSBs are going to remain popular and sustainable in the long-term. They way in which people access content, particularly those under the age of 35, is rapidly changing and the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated that change. Young audience behaviour is an indicator of future trends and PSBs are at risk of losing touch with under 35s. Unless PSBs do more to attract younger audiences, the core principle of universality that underpins their existence will be threatened. For these efforts to be successful, we recommend that changes be made to the regulatory structure to enable PSBs to innovate more rapidly and easily, and to be able to better compete online. (Paragraph 48)

8.We are pleased that Ofcom highlighted the deficits in children’s programming across the PSB portfolios in 2018 and consider it vitally important that it continues to keep PSB performance in this area under regular review. We recommend that the Government evaluate the success of the Young Audiences Content Fund against its goals and extend the scheme if it is found to be increasing the investment in original content for children in the UK. (Paragraph 52)

9.We recognise that the BBC has provided a record amount of educational resources during the Covid-19 pandemic, and particularly during the periods that schools across the country have been closed. Whilst this is a key example of the value the BBC provides, it took too long for the BBC to make more of its content available on TV. We applaud the work that the BBC has done to provide these resources but encourage it to continue making more of its content available by means other than the internet to ensure more equal access. (Paragraph 56)

10.It took the Government almost 10 months to respond to the consultation on decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion. Delays of this nature by DCMS in reforming other areas of broadcasting, such as prominence, would be of significant concern. Of more concern was that the long-delayed response simply provided further uncertainty. The issue of decriminalisation could be used as a bargaining tool by the Government during the ongoing licence fee settlement negotiations with the BBC and S4C, and thereby undermine one of the core principles of public service broadcasting: that it should be removed from Government interference. We call on the Government to provide assurances that the issue of decriminalisation will not be used as a bargaining tool during the ongoing licence fee settlement negotiations with the BBC and S4C. We also recommend that the Government conclude its further work on enforcement schemes, and publish its findings, by the end of the current parliamentary session. (Paragraph 61)

11.The continued rise in TV licence non-payment in the UK is a cause for concern, as is the fact that the BBC’s target of a 5.9% evasion rate by March 2021 will be missed by a significant margin. We are also concerned that the failure to resolve definitively speculation about decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion could exacerbate the situation and recommend that the Government provides some certainty on this matter as soon as possible. (Paragraph 64)

12.We recognise the problems associated with the licence fee and, in the annex to this Report, explore the existing alternatives. None of these are sufficiently attractive to justify recommending, for the next Charter period, that they replace the current licence fee model, not least given the disruption and expense of doing so and on balance, the licence fee remains the preferred option for that period. The Government either needs to come out with a strong alternative to the licence fee that it can put to Parliament, or strongly support the current model for at least the next Charter period (2028–2038) and actively aid the BBC in driving down evasion. (Paragraph 65)

13.Current requirements on PSBs have generated a thriving production economy that has attracted the attention of streaming services, but the rise of video on demand is putting pressure on the Terms of Trade. Subscription video on demand services should invest in the production ecology as well as benefit from it, but any move to reform the Terms of Trade must take into account the diverging business models of the different commissioners in the UK production ecology. (Paragraph 72)

Regulation and legislation

14.We are not persuaded by arguments that prominence can be left to the market simply because PSB content is popular and if an organisation such as Freeview, which represents the interests of over 70 TV channels, finds it difficult to negotiate with global platforms and TV manufacturers, it is unlikely that individual PSBs will find it any easier. As we touch on later in the Report, competition policy authorities are currently evolving their approach to platforms and applications with ‘strategic market status’ and how these can act as gatekeepers in online markets with potential for anti-competitive exercise of market power. Manufacturers of TV hardware (and their operating systems and consolidator TV apps) should be thought of in exactly the same way. (Paragraph 80)

15.The Government has been too slow to act on Ofcom’s 2019 recommendations to update prominence legislation. We are frustrated that the Government expects the process to take a further two years; new primary legislation is urgently needed and the media ecology advances far too quickly for the Government to delay any further. We recommend that the Government prioritise new primary legislation to update the Communications Act 2003 and grant PSBs prominence which extends beyond the Electronic Programme Guide. The Government should seek to publish the Bill in draft in the upcoming parliamentary session, ahead of finding time to introduce and enact this legislation before the end of 2022. To ensure that prominence can be extended to online viewing platforms, such as smart TVs, we also recommend that PSB video on demand players be covered by their public service broadcasting remits. (Paragraph 81)

16.We acknowledge that some of the programmes have a small print acknowledgement of the original producers, but question whether this is quite within the spirit of accrediting everyone involved with the right branding. We believe that it is important that PSB originated content is clearly identifiable as such. (Paragraph 87)

17.We do not believe that sharing top line viewer data about PSB-originated content with Ofcom and the relevant the PSB would be commercially sensitive. Streaming services are an important ‘second window’ for PSB content but without viewer data, it is difficult to fully assess the reach of PSBs. (Paragraph 88)

18.We recommend the Government impose two specific requirements in relation to PSB content hosted on other streaming services in new media legislation. First, PSB content should be clearly labelled as such and branded with the logo of the PSB from which the content originated. Secondly, streaming services should be required to share top line viewing data—at the very least, the number of viewers—for PSB content they host with Ofcom and the relevant PSBs to enable full analysis of PSB reach, and the audio-visual landscape as a whole. (Paragraph 89)

19.We are concerned that the full potential of the Digital Markets Unit is not being realised under its current proposed remit. We recommend that the Government should broaden the Digital Markets Unit’s remit to consider whether the dominance of online platforms gives them undue influence over the ability of consumers to access public service broadcasting content online and through streaming. (Paragraph 95)

20.Where an established media brand is providing programming, it is not right to make the default assumption that YouTube’s contribution to the viewer deciding to watch that programme, and therefore its share of the value chain, is the same as where content is user-generated. For news, this approach would, if allowed to continue, over time erode the ability of PSBs such as ITV and Channel 4 to actually produce quality, well-researched news coverage. The Digital Markets Unit should also consider whether the standard terms and conditions for revenue sharing which are used by some platforms offer a fair return for PSBs in exchange for their content. (Paragraph 96)

21.That reluctance should not be allowed to relegate the UK PSBs to a less prominent position on hardware than non-PSB commercial content providers who purchase prominence. There is little point in requiring a PSB regime if it can be hidden from view by the actions of hardware providers. We recommend that the Government should make international manufacturers aware of the importance of prominence of PSB content to the UK and its willingness to consider regulation should PSB prominence be undermined by hardware design. (Paragraph 100)

22.The findings of the Competition Commission in 2009 are now outdated, given the rate at which the market has changed and the dominance of global streaming services, and PSBs should be allowed to collaborate so that they have a better chance of competing in the now crowded video on demand market. Whilst we hope that prominence legislation will be extended to online platforms within the next 18 months, the Government’s track record on addressing issues within the media ecology does not fill us with confidence so PSBs should be taking steps to maximise their own bargaining power, and attract audiences, in this digital age. Rather than waiting for the Government to help them, we recommend that PSBs help themselves by exploring options for collaboration on a single video on demand platform, and Ofcom should support PSBs in this endeavour. We call on the competition policy authorities to make clear that, given the evolution of the broadcasting landscape, there is no automatic objection to such collaboration on market dominance grounds. (Paragraph 101)

Diversity and representation

23.The lack of workforce data collected and shared by streaming services in the UK is of great concern. The Government must ensure that regulators have access to top line data, in line with that provided by traditional broadcasters, to enable accurate analysis of diversity and equal opportunities within the industry. We recommend that a requirement to provide data, including a breakdown by gender, race or ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and socio-economic background should be included in the new primary legislation we have called for to replace the Communications Act 2003. (Paragraph 103)

24.PSBs should be leading by example. The current gaps in employment data supplied to Ofcom are of significant concern. We recommend that Ofcom place minimum requirement obligations on PSBs, in terms of the employment data they provide, in order to drive down the industry-wide gaps in data that currently exist. Ofcom should hold PSBs to account if they do not meet the minimum requirements. (Paragraph 104)

25.We are concerned that, without monitoring, there is no way to tell whether transgender people are being fairly represented in the workplace. Whilst there should be no requirement for someone to declare to their employer that they are transgender, we would encourage the Government to work with Ofcom and broadcasters to expand diversity monitoring forms to include the option for people to declare that they are transgender should they wish to. That requirement should also be extended to streaming services to bring the data they collect in line with that collected by broadcasters. (Paragraph 105)

26.We find it hard to accept the excuse that diversity of production crew is out of the control of commissioners and broadcasters. We are pleased to hear that domestic broadcasters prioritise diversity within production and we do not believe that it is beyond the power of powerful commissioners such as Amazon to insist on diversity within production teams. (Paragraph 108)

27.Diversity within the industry has improved in recent years—for example, there is a better gender balance—but progress continues to be too slow. It is taking too long to address inequality within the industry and much more needs to be done to increase diversity, notably disabled people and BAME representation and particularly in the upper levels of management. PSBs and streaming services alike need to do better, and in the response to this Report, Ofcom and the Government should explain how they intend to ensure that improvements are made much more quickly. (Paragraph 112)

28.We recognise the importance of regional diversity in commissioning roles and we welcome Ofcom’s previous decision to strengthen the criteria for regional and national production. We recommend that Ofcom’s guidelines for regional and national production should be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that the commissioning of authentic regional content continues to improve. (Paragraph 115)

29.Increasing diversity in commissioning and production roles is crucial for improving on-screen diversity. We recommend that Ofcom introduce requirements for the number of BAME, LGBTQ+ and disabled people in commissioning and senior production roles to improve authentic on-screen representation of the UK’s diverse communities. (Paragraph 118)

30.We welcome the recent promotion of S4C in Wales to channel 104 on Virgin Media but we are concerned about the lack of discoverability for minority language content in this increasingly digital market. The role that minority language broadcasters play is an important one and confirms the need for updated prominence legislation to protect the ability for their content to be found by viewers. We recommend that the Government’s work on updating media legislation ensure that minority language content is given sufficient prominence on the relevant platforms. (Paragraph 123)

Published: 25 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement