Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Letter and memorandum from Channel 4

  Please find attached a short response from Channel 4 to the 2nd Call for Evidence from the Committee. We have focused our comments on just two of the areas identified by the Committee for further inquiry—Broadcasting in the Nations and Regions and The BBC as Commissioner versus Broadcaster.

  We hope that the Committee finds these additional comments useful.

12 October 2005


  1.1  Channel 4 strongly supports the BBC's moves to decentralise and play more of a role as "venture capital for the creative economy" in the regions and nations of the UK. As the BBC is funded by licence fee payers from across the UK and as it has a duty to reflect the different constituent parts of the United Kingdom back to one another, it is important that it addresses the fact that historically it has been too much of a London-centric organisation.

  1.2  We are not in a position to comment on the specific question of whether the proposed move to Manchester represents value for money for the licence fee payer. However, we would like to reiterate the points made in our initial submission to the committee regarding the importance of the BBC using the opportunity afforded by the introduction of the WOCC to do more to support independent production in the regions.

  1.3  If we are to develop an independent production community across the UK that supports cultural diversity, is strong and vibrant and provides significant opportunities for locally-based talent to develop and succeed, it will be important that the BBC does not simply concentrate any increased spend on independent production in London. In Channel 4's view the relative weakness of regional production today will mean that the BBC will inevitably focus spend on London unless positive policy measures—such as an independent regional production quota—are introduced.

  1.4  We believe that if the BBC were to deploy a significant proportion of the licence fee in this way, alongside Channel 4's major investment in the regions, it could help to create and sustain strong clusters of regional production, both in-house and independent, in a number of key centres across the UK. As we suggested in our original submission to the Committee the BBC's contribution could be further buttressed if it committed greater resources to the training and development of independent producers in the regions to match the commitment of Channel 4.


  2.1  Channel 4 strongly supports the proposition that the future for the BBC must be built firmly upon its key role as commissioner and producer of public service content. Its role as "broadcaster" of that content is becoming increasingly incidental. The key purpose of public service broadcasting, at both the BBC and Channel 4, is to educate, entertain and inform by investing in the widest possible range of content of the highest quality and making this available to the widest possible audience through the most relevant means of distribution. Ensuring that this content is easily and universally available, primarily on a free-to-view basis, is clearly vital and PSB delivery should be fulfilled through all relevant media to ensure resonance with its audience.

  2.2  A key purpose of the BBC has been that it is both a producer and distributor of PSB programmes and this principle should be maintained in a digital world to ensure the breadth and diversity of its PSB role is adequately fulfilled. Channel 4 believes that it is important for the UK's broadcast and production ecology that the BBC retains a specific role as a producer. BBC Production has historically played a very important role in the training and development of skills of staff in the media sector. Retention of strong in-house production units in the BBC, when coupled with a strong and vibrant independent production community, should help to underpin choice, diversity and competition in UK production. We believe that it is important that there is a significant proportion of the UK production sector focused primarily on the delivery of public service content and not only on maximising commercial returns. This is particularly important if those areas of PSB that offer less potential for commercial exploitation in secondary markets or require significant financial risk (eg news, current affairs, documentary, original comedy) are to remain healthy.

  2.3  In the old analogue world `broadcasting' was effectively the only way to ensure universal access to public service content but in the new digital world there is an ever increasing array of ways to get content to viewers. Viewer behaviour is being radically transformed as a result of the `broadband, download' culture. Viewers now expect to be able to get access to public service content from the BBC, and other PSBs including Channel  4, as and when it is convenient to them and not to the Channel controllers and schedulers. Furthermore, the traditional distinction between production and distribution in the analogue world will increasingly blur in the digital world, as programmes and services exploit the choice and flexibility offered through new digital platforms.

  2.4  It is essential that the public service broadcasters are able to meet changing viewer demands by ensuring their content and services are available on the fullest possible range of new media platforms, including broadband and mobile. It is for this reason that Ofcom's review of the production sector that is set to take place later this year is of such significance for the BBC and Channel 4. This review will set the regulatory framework for the means by which the PSBs secure the rights in their commissioned programming necessary to deliver their public service role in the digital age. Channel 4 believes that it is essential that this framework enables public service broadcasters to continue to make their content available on a universal basis in the new media world, without the imposition of prohibitive additional costs. If this is not achieved then public service content will become less and less relevant, especially to the younger generation.

  2.5  It is also important that public service broadcasters have the opportunity to develop and promote new forms of public service content on these new platforms. This content, for example on mobile, may not be the same in format or approach as that which has traditionally been the basis of PSB in the analogue world. The BBC has already shown, through the success of its online activity, how public service values can be adapted to remain relevant in the new media world. If PSBs are not facilitated to invest in content for the new media space as well as for traditional broadcast there is a danger that the new media world will be dominated solely by commercial content and that the value of public service and universal access will become increasingly irrelevant.

  2.6  Notwithstanding our ongoing support for the BBC as commissioner and producer of content and for its need to expand its presence onto new platforms, we believe it will be more essential than ever that proposals for new BBC services face proper public scrutiny before their introduction. The size and scale of the BBC and the absence of any need to make a commercial return place it in a uniquely powerful position. There must, therefore, be full market impact and public value assessments conducted on all new service proposals as well as full public and industry consultation prior to the granting of any approvals.

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