The easiest way to understand media convergence is
to think of how separate types of mediasuch as broadcast,
print and onlinehave merged together. Media previously
made distinct by their technology of distribution have converged.
Newspapers are no longer just printed on large sheets of thin
paper; they also have websites with up to the minute information,
including videos which remind you of TV. Broadcasters do not just
beam signals to your TV aerial or satellite dish; they have websites
with articles published on them which might remind you more of
the printed page. Families can still sit down together at a specified
time to watch a TV programme, but programmes can also be watched
at a later date on the internet, entirely at your own convenience.
The changes brought about by convergence should bring
immense benefits for us all: increased competition, innovation
and choice; economic opportunities for the UK creative sector;
and value to citizens. But convergence brings three key challenges
too: potential erosion of trust and confidence in the content
we consume; challenges to the future of public service content;
and outmoded regulation, which is slow to adapt to changing markets
and audience expectations.
Ahead of the Government's White Paper on communications
and the communications Bill, promised in this Parliament, we argue
that forthcoming legislation must be drafted in such a way as
to enable flexibility to adapt to an ever changing media environment.
It is our view that new technologies and behaviours are evolving
more quickly than regulatory protections and action will be required:
to ensure a safer environment for content accessed via the internet;
and to ensure that public expectations of content standards are
met more broadly. It would be reckless to jettison the current
regulatory arrangements which have served us so well; but equally,
it would be complacent for the Government and Ofcom not to get
ahead of the curve.
This Report makes specific recommendations under
On content standards, we argue that for the time
being broadcast regulation can continue to co-exist with both
on demand and press regulation without disrupting audiences' ability
to build accurate expectations about the content they encounter.
However, the framework within which these regulators fit will
need updating, in time, to ensure consumer trust and confidence
can be maintained. In our view, this will involve placing much
audiovisual content on an equal regulatory footing, and as familiar
protections such as the watershed may not apply universally across
this content, a system of guidance and age-rating will need to
be introduced to ensure audiences can make informed decisions
about what it suits them and their families to watch. We also
recognise the increasing role played by content accessed over
the open internet and the important initiatives voluntarily undertaken
to help guide and protect audiences there. This must broadly be
the right approach; there should be no appetite to try and shackle
the extraordinary opportunities presented by the internet. At
present, however, these initiatives are somewhat diffuse and sporadic.
We recommend that a more coordinated approach to self-regulation
be introduced in which the expectations of the UK public are clearly
articulated and digital intermediaries are encouraged to meet
On content creation, we argue that in a converged
world, public service content will remain very important, if not
more so, but will face challenges to its funding and effectiveness.
We recommend that in advance of the next BBC Charter Review, the
Government should conduct a comprehensive review of public service
broadcasting in the round, to include not just the BBC but all
other providers. We also propose various more immediate, but potentially
valuable, regulatory measures to help support public service broadcasting.
In particular, we deem it essential that measures are taken on
prominence to ensure that audiences are able to discover and access
public service content easily in a converged world.
On competition, we suggest clarifying Ofcom's competition
powers in certain areas, but ensuring that high hurdles have to
be overcome before intervention is allowed. What is more, we consider
the BBC's economic impact and reflect on how this might best promote
the public good, whilst reassuring the market, above all the newspaper
industry, that it too has a secure foothold in the converged world.
None of this is easy, and predicting the pace of
change is in many respects a foolish enterprise, but imaginative
thinking is required to ensure that the UK's media remains at
the head of the top table.
A very important issue, which we received some evidence
on, but were not able to do justice to in this inquiry, is pluralityensuring
a range of viewpoints and that no one voice holds too much influence.
This will be the subject of our next inquiry.