Media convergence - Communications Committee Contents

Media convergence

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.  The easiest way to think about media convergence is as a technological phenomenon whereby the digitisation of content and its distribution have given audiences the ability to access content on multiple platforms or devices.[1] Media previously made distinct by their technology of distribution have converged. This development has prompted changes in: the way audiences access and use content; their expectations across media; and the way in which content producers and distributors make money and operate more generally. The phenomenon was well described in the written evidence of Lara Fielden, Visiting Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism:

    "Newspapers are not just printed but online and carry video packages with the look and feel of traditional TV; broadcasters publish websites including text-based articles similar to online print offerings; scheduled programmes are broadcast but also available on-demand, on digital channels and a variety of websites; user-generated material vies for online audiences alongside professionally produced content; professional and amateur bloggers share the same debates."[2]

2.  Converged devices have become a mass market reality, giving people access to types of content, conventionally distributed over different platforms, on one single platform, be it on their desk, table-top or in the palm of their hand. Audiences are increasingly expecting: 'anything, anytime, anywhere'. The possibilities—from ever more multi-faceted devices to ever greater interactivity—seem limitless. Paradoxically, therefore, convergence is leading to diverging sources of content and means of consumption: in the range of suppliers at one end, and the range of devices and means of accessing content at the other.

3.  The pace of media convergence, however, is contested, and it has been put to us repeatedly during the course of this inquiry that traditional services such as linear broadcast TV remain hugely popular and resilient. While this is clearly the case, there are very marked generational differences in the ways younger age groups are using media compared to other age groups (see para 34). Younger age groups are in the vanguard of convergence. So, when considering their behaviour, content accessed via the internet and on new converged devices poses more significant challenges than might first seem apparent from the resilience of conventional linear TV across the population as a whole. It is, of course, impossible to predict with any certainty whether younger generations will continue to consume media as they are doing at present; their media consumption may become more conventional as they get older. However, even if this happens, there is still a cohort of young people currently using media in ways unimaginable to previous generations, and the next generation are likely to be even more radical in their consumption patterns.

4.  In the unconverged world, different regulatory models have been applied to each of the different media—broadcast, print and online—encompassing licensed broadcasters at one extreme and the almost completely unregulated internet at the other. In a converged world, this approach faces increasing challenge: the clear boundaries between media are breaking down, new methods of consumption are undermining traditional regulatory approaches, and public expectations are changing. Among some of the questions posed by these changes are:

·  What standards, if any, will the public expect to be applied in future to different media, and what tools are available to ensure they are delivered?

·  How can we continue to secure wide availability of high quality content made in the UK, including accurate and trustworthy news and information?

·  How can we secure healthy and competitive media markets which contribute to the public interest?

5.  The proposals for responding to media convergence that we heard over the course of this inquiry varied in their radicalism and urgency. These differences emerged particularly strongly in the specific recommendations witnesses made for regulatory reform. Some believed that a sweeping response is required now, some believed that we needed to begin planning for reform, while others believed that we should adopt a 'wait-and-see' approach:

    "A new settlement for media content is required."[3]

    "As media platforms become interchangeable the traditional boundaries between regulatory systems and structures are also breaking down."[4]

    "Planning for a converged future is to be advised."[5]

    "For at least 20 years technology enthusiasts have consistently exaggerated the speed and scale of change, especially in the case of television."[6]

    "It is premature to attempt to put in place a rigid new regulatory structure which would seek to address in a comprehensive way all the issues thrown up by convergence."[7]

    "Convergence is a process that is very much still underway … so a guiding principle for Government policy must be sufficient flexibility to remain relevant and adaptable to future advances."[8]

6.  While it might be tempting to strike a 'wait and see' posture, it has become clear to us that whether audiences are aware or not, new technologies and behaviours are evolving more quickly than regulatory protections and than many people suggest. To a great extent, different media and media platforms do still exist, and audiences have some cherished expectations linked to them, but there are important changes taking place which require a policy response. At present, we do not see the need for a complete overhaul of the regulatory architecture overnight; indeed, we would counsel against this. But in our view it is imperative that a new, proportionate, approach is fashioned which is capable of gradually responding to this more complex world, which audiences can trust, and which may involve new priorities and changes to the assumptions underpinning the current policy stance. The Government's forthcoming White Paper on communications is an opportunity to start addressing these issues.

7.  Over four months, we heard a wide range of evidence and proposals, falling broadly under three themes:

·  Content standards

(i)  consumer trust and confidence;

(ii)  access to content via the internet;

·  Content creation

(i)  safeguarding public service content;

·  Competition

(i)  an effective competition regime for a converged world.

8.  As the inquiry progressed, complex issues around content standards rose to prominence. Nevertheless, we continue to believe that the other two broad issues are of equal relevance. As content regulation becomes more complex, so it will be even more important to design effective 'positive' public service intervention to secure high quality content from the UK's public service providers, which will help set industry-wide standards. Alongside this, well regulated and effective competition—with more open markets and lower barriers to entry—should encourage innovation and deliver value and choice for consumers.

9.  This debate is happening at the same time as regulatory fluidity and debate in the media elsewhere, i.e. the ongoing debate around implementation of the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson. While Lord Justice Leveson has been criticised in some quarters for supposedly 'ignoring the internet,'[9] the evidence we received has rather suggested that his voluntary co-regulatory model may have relevance beyond the press—to a number of sectors in this altogether less predictable converging media environment. In Chapter 3, we explain how we think our proposals for audiovisual media regulation are broadly consistent with, and could sit alongside, the proposals currently emerging for press regulation.

10.  Media convergence is an enormous subject and we do not claim that our Report is exhaustive in its analysis, but we hope that it provides a good sense of the necessary direction of travel for key aspects of policy and regulation. We received some evidence on two areas of policy which are clearly of importance: intellectual property[10] and plurality. Both these topics are worthy of inquiries in their own right and we have not addressed them in this Report. Plurality, ensuring as far as possible an informed citizenry, a media without any single set of views, or individuals wielding too much influence over the political process, is of fundamental importance and will be the topic of our next inquiry.

11.  We would like to thank everyone who gave evidence to us, both at oral evidence sessions, which we held between October 2012 and February 2013, and in writing. We also wish to thank our Specialist Adviser, Robin Foster, whose expertise greatly enhanced our work.

1   The technical definition: "digitisation of content, internet protocol, and ability to access any content anywhere on any device"-Dr David Levy, Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, Q 409.  Back

2   Lara Fielden Back

3   Lara Fielden Back

4   IPPR Back

5   Professor Richard Collins Back

6   Q 409 Professor Patrick Barwise Back

7   ATVOD Back

8   DCMS Back

9   The Guardian, 'Leveson's distinction between web and print news "will undermine regulation"', 29 November 2012. Available online:  

10   Intellectual property is a substantial part of an inquiry currently being undertaken by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee into support for the creative economy.  Back

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