Public service broadcasting: as vital as ever Contents

Chapter 2: Public service broadcasting


13.Our evidence overwhelmingly indicated that public service broadcasting was essential. Almost all witnesses supported the continuing role of public service broadcasting, including independent producers, academics, new entrants to the market and commercial rivals.19 The Commercial Broadcasters’ Association described public service broadcasting as the bedrock of the UK audio-visual sector.20 Public service broadcasters create demand for workers across a range of specialist fields (acting, music, visual effects, production etc.), provide training and development opportunities, and ensure the viability of lifelong careers in the sector. The Government stated: “in this changing media landscape, the purposes of PSB—to inform our understanding of the world; to stimulate knowledge and learning; to reflect UK cultural identity, and to represent diversity and alternative viewpoints—remain vitally important.”21

14.Public service broadcasters also explained the continued importance of their remit. The BBC argued:

“PSBs inform, educate and entertain; they create distinctive content across all genres and in specialist areas such as religion, arts, music and children’s; and they deliver impartial and accurate news that supports our democracy. Above all, they serve the UK—reflecting the diversity of its nations and regions, telling distinctively British stories and bringing the nation together.”22

15.Building on the provisions of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom listed four purposes and six characteristics of public service broadcasting. These are in Box 2.

Box 2: PSB purposes and characteristics


  • Informing our understanding of the world
  • Stimulating knowledge and learning
  • Reflecting the UK’s cultural identity
  • Representing diversity and alternative viewpoints


  • High-quality
  • Original
  • Innovative
  • Challenging
  • Widely available
  • Distinctive

Source: Ofcom, PSB annual research report 2016 (11 July 2016): [accessed 4 November 2019]

16.In 2009 our predecessor committee found that Ofcom’s list of purposes was not “sufficiently discriminating to distinguish between those programmes and services that merit public finance and special regulatory treatment and those that do not.”23

17.In that report, the committee recommended a policy approach that focused on “the provision of core elements including national and regional news, current affairs programmes, the arts, children’s programming, programmes dealing with religion and other beliefs and UK content.”24 In our current inquiry, we found that, while support for these elements remained strong, the value of public service broadcasting was broader. For example, we heard widespread support for the provision of universal and freely available content and the importance of ‘event television’ which brings the nation together.

18.Many witnesses felt that public service broadcasting existed to serve the ‘citizen’ or ‘public’ interest, as distinct from the consumer interest served by the market. The Voice of the Listener and Viewer explained:

“Citizen interests go beyond our choices as private consumers, to provide broader social benefits to democracy, culture, identity, learning, participation and engagement. Citizen interests tend to have a longer-term focus than consumer interests which are influenced by ongoing market trends.”25

19.Professor Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at the London Business School, provided a definition of public service broadcasting which focused on institutions. He argued that it was broadcasting by a broadcaster “managed and regulated to (i) be universally available across the UK and (ii) deliver explicit public service objectives in addition to those delivered by a purely commercial broadcaster”.26

20.This was supported by Alex Mahon, Chief Executive of Channel 4, who argued that everything Channel 4 produced across all its portfolio of channels counted as public service broadcasting.27 Dame Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of ITV, noted that programmes which did not obviously provide a public service subsidised less commercially viable programmes such as news and current affairs.28

21.Many witnesses noted the importance of universal availability to public service broadcasting. BBC One, BBC Two, Channel 3, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are available via digital terrestrial television to all those who have a TV licence, which costs £154.50 a year. Age UK noted that online subscription services were not yet available to everyone:

“In 2018, 4.5 million adults in the UK had never used the internet—just over half of these (2.6 million) were aged 75+ (51 per cent of that age group), but there were also 1 million people aged 65–74 (16 per cent), and nearly half a million people aged 55–64 (6 per cent).”29

22.Some felt that public value content could be found on channels and services which are not public service broadcasters. Ali Law, Head of Policy at Sky, said:

“We have long believed that the way the legislation sets out what constitutes public service broadcasting and public service content, and Ofcom’s set of characteristics, is definitely fulfilled by content that is produced by those other than the PSBs, including Sky. There is a lot of frustration at the tendency to take an institutional approach that merely counts those things shown on PSB channels, rather than having a much-wider appreciation.”30

23.Dr Cento Veljanovksi, Founder and Managing Partner at Case Associates, worried that “a false dichotomy is being set up between public service broadcasting, which seems to be defined as ‘good’ and ‘British’, and commercial media, which seems to be characterised as ‘bad’ and ‘foreign’.”31 He noted that much content shown by public service broadcasters is produced by private companies.32

24.However, few witnesses supported the view that public service broadcasting should be limited to filling gaps in the market. Dr Veljanovksi argued for ‘consumer sovereignty’: the idea that individuals are the best judge of what they want to watch and public service broadcasting should exist only to enhance the choices available to them. 33

25.Professor Philip Booth, Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, argued that the concept of ‘public service broadcasting’—as policy focused on state-supported institutions, such as the BBC—had become outdated: “The likelihood is that, in the modern world, public service broadcasting objectives are best served by a range of providers, large and small, some of them niche and some of them broadcasting internationally to groups of people with similar interests in different countries.”34

26.However, most witnesses argued that—in addition to being widely available—public service broadcasters produced distinctive content in this competitive market. For example, Andy Harries, Chief Executive of Left Bank Pictures, which produces The Crown for Netflix, told us: “the BBC provides shows that you will not see anywhere else, from documentaries to talk shows to news to dramas that are specifically British.”35 Mark Oliver, Chairman and Co-Founder of Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates, also suggested that public service broadcasting had a role in “raising the level” of the what the market provides rather than merely filling in gaps.36 We discuss the role of public service broadcasters in supporting the UK production sector in Chapter 3.

27.Kevin Bakhurst, Group Director for Content at Ofcom, told us: “clearly PSB-type content is provided by a whole range of organisations, including Netflix and Amazon and others.” However, Mr Bakhurst added that the distinctiveness of public service broadcasters was best judged on their whole portfolio rather than individual programmes.37

28.Public service broadcasters must continually re-evaluate their place in a changing market if they are to maintain their distinctive value to UK citizens and the UK economy. As Directors UK argued: “the focus now should be on identifying the elements of PSB that are of lasting value and [using] these to build a PSB structure for the modern age.”38

29.We did not focus on news and current affairs in this inquiry because it is an area in which there is less competition from SVODs. However, many witnesses said that the provision of impartial and trusted news is crucial to public service broadcasting. Ofcom found that news was the aspect of public service broadcasting audiences valued most highly.39 Notably, year 12 students we met said that although they went to SVODs such as Netflix first when they wanted to watch TV they trusted public service broadcasters most to give them impartial and accurate news.40

30.According to the Reuters Institute, the BBC and ITV are the UK’s most trusted news brands.41 ITV told us that its news reached 19 million people each week:

“Arguably, there has never been a more important role for well resourced, accurate and impartial news services than in the context of the current national debate about the UK’s future. It is very striking indeed that ITV’s news services—both national and international as well as nations and regions—are performing exceptionally strongly with substantial growth in audiences over the past year. TV is still the medium that people turn to for help in understanding the news in the UK.”42

31.Public service broadcasting remains essential to the UK media and losing it would leave UK society and democracy worse off. Public service broadcasting can bring the nation together in a way in which other media cannot and can ‘raise the level’ of quality, as well as ensuring continued investment in original UK content across a range of programming. An essential feature of public service broadcasting is its universality, free at the point of use after paying the licence fee: both the availability and affordability of public service broadcasters are unmatched by other services. In its forthcoming PSB review, Ofcom should also consider the contribution of content from non-public service broadcasters to public service objectives.

Serving all audiences

32.Public service broadcasters are mandated to appeal to all audiences. However, many witnesses expressed concern that public service broadcasters were failing to appeal to certain groups and that they were not being held to account for this. Dr Tom Mills, Lecturer in Sociology and Policy at Aston University, argued:

“the BBC has become a very unaccountable institution and does not represent certain demographics. That includes young people, but also ethnic minorities. It is a very strongly London-centric organisation, and it has always tended to cater more to middle-class tastes.”43

Younger generations

33.The most widespread concern we found related to 16–34-year-olds. UKTV noted that PSBs now account for only 35 per cent of viewing by this cohort.44

34.Ofcom found that in 2018 the 16–34 age group consumed less than half as much BBC content as the average person: 72 minutes compared with 153 minutes on average and 77 minutes for this age group in 2017.45 This includes all form of BBC content, including BBC online and BBC content on SVODs and YouTube. For the first time, in 2018 less than half of 16–24 year-olds watched any BBC channel for 15 minutes or more during a typical week.46

35.Figure 5 shows that 16–24 and 25–34-year-olds spent around half as much time watching BBC channels in 2018 as in 2010. BBC iPlayer has not made up the difference: 18–34-year-olds watched it for an average of two minutes a day, compared with 40 minutes for Netflix.47

Figure 5: Minutes per day spent watching BBC channels

Line chart showing minutes per day spent watching BBC channels by all individuals, 16-24 year olds and 25-34 year olds

Source: Ofcom, Media Nations: UK 2019 (7 August 2019): [accessed 9 August 2019]

36.Year 12 students we met said that they went to public service broadcasters for ‘event’ television, such as sport and live entertainment, which they often watched with their family. However, they spent most of their time watching SVODs such as Netflix because they produced drama and comedy which better appealed to them.48 Ampere Analysis found that 48 per cent of Netflix users were aged 18–34.49

37.One student at our engagement event at the University of Strathclyde described the BBC’s output for young people as “frankly awful” and a poor attempt to emulate YouTube. They felt that the BBC had become “a jack of all trades and master of none.”50

38.Many witnesses told us that providing the right content was key to appealing to 16–34-year-olds. Alistair Law, Head of Policy for the UK & Ireland at Sky, told us: “It is demonstrably not about the ability of people under 35 to find content; they are experts at being able to find the content that they want to watch. It is very much about the fact that the content they want to watch might come from a variety of different sources.”51

39.Dan Cheesbrough, Commercial Director of Hartswood Films, was worried about how public service broadcasters were “addressing or failing to address younger audiences. That is something that the SVODs are in absolute mastery and control of. They are producing show after show which young audiences own; they belong to them. Young audiences might watch Bodyguard or Line of Duty, but those are not shows owned by them, whereas young audiences absolutely see Netflix as a hallmark of quality.”52

40.Pact, the trade association for UK independent TV companies, believed that the decline in BBC Three’s reach was evidence that: “Greater availability will not bring in the audiences if the content offer is unappealing to the 16–34-year audience demographic.”53 The BBC made BBC Three, its service aimed at 16–34 year-olds, online-only from 2016.

41.Lord Hall of Birkenhead, Director-General of the BBC, said in 2014 that becoming online-only would “move BBC Three into the world where young people are”.54 He announced: “we will recruit new types of experts and learn new tools and techniques, to make the online programmes, new formats and content that will mean BBC Three thrives online and doesn’t just live there.”55

42.BBC Three’s weekly reach among 16–34 year olds fell from 26 per cent in 2014 to 8 per cent in 2017–18.56 It remained at 8 per cent in 2018–19.57 The BBC’s decision was criticised by respondents to our survey, respondents to Kantar Media’s survey for Ofcom on diversity, the Voice of the Listener and Viewer and Roger Mosey, former Editorial Director of the BBC.58

43.Since March 2019, the BBC has shown BBC Three programmes in the 10.35pm slot on BBC One on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. However, the average number of 16–34-year-olds watching BBC One after 10.35pm on these days has fallen from 130,000 to 90,000 since the change was introduced.59 In 2018–19, only one BBC Three programme in the 10.35pm timeslot was viewed by a higher share of 16-24 year olds than the average.60

44.Jasmine Dotiwala, Head of Youth Engagement and Media at the Media Trust, argued that the BBC did not produce enough content which appeals to younger people and that this undermined the legitimacy of the licence fee: “There needs to be a new way of requesting viewers to pay for PSB content and for the PSBs to deliver for all, not the few”.61

45.Ofcom warned:

“If people don’t consider the BBC as a core part of their viewing, then it will be hard to encourage them to pay the licence fee in years to come, and public support for the licence fee could become eroded. This is a direct threat to the BBC’s ability to continue to deliver its Mission and Public Purposes.”62

46.It added: “Unlike previous generations, the BBC is no longer seeing younger audiences coming back to it but instead they are transitioning their viewing to SVODs.”63

47.Several respondents to our survey who subscribed to an SVOD felt that it offered better value than the licence fee; younger people were more likely to hold this view.64 A Netflix subscription starts at £5.99 a month, which is less than half the £12.88 monthly cost of the licence fee. However, Professor Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, said that this comparison was misleading because the BBC provided a wider range of services.65

48.We heard that children were not growing up with public service broadcasting as previous generations did. Professor Jeanette Steemers, Professor of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London, said that public service broadcasting was “even more important for kids because it encompasses in microcosm diversity and range. Quite frankly, other providers out there are not really providing stuff for kids who live in the UK.”66 Professor Steemers noted Ofcom research that 41 per cent of 12–15-year-olds felt that there were not enough programmes on TV which showed children in their part of the country.

49.Ofcom found that 49 per cent of 8–15-year-olds prefer YouTube to TV programmes on a TV set.67 Forty-eight per cent of 12–15-year-olds said that YouTube was the service they would miss most if they lost access to it, compared with 19 per cent for Netflix, 6 per cent for BBC One and BBC Two and 2 per cent for Channel 4.68

50.The Children’s Media Foundation regretted the decline in spending on children’s content by public service broadcasters: “There is now, apart from pre-school programmes on Channel 5, a minimal amount of children’s content on the terrestrial channels. The dedicated children’s channels CBeebies, CBBC and CITV, provide regular services, but the level of spend on original content across the board, including the BBC, has declined steadily since 2003.”69

51.Norwegian teen series Skam, which was released in short segments on social media, was cited by Clintons Solicitors and Professor Jeanette Steemers as an example which UK public service broadcasters should emulate to help their programmes to reach more children and teenagers. S4C described the success of its short-form online platform ‘Hansh’, which reached 700,000 monthly views across social platforms in January 2019. Channel 4 told us that it would create a new service on social media targeting teenagers aged 14 and over.70 We welcome this announcement in the light of our previous finding that Channel 4’s programming for children and young adults was inadequate.71

52.As viewing habits of older and younger generations diverge, it is increasingly difficult and costly for public service broadcasters to appeal to everyone. However, more than two-thirds of 16–34-year olds are registered on All4 and 79 per cent are registered on ITV Hub.72 Viewing by 16–34s of ITV’s main channel increased by 3 per cent in 2018, while Channel 4 achieved its biggest share of 16–34-year-old viewers for eight years in the week commencing 23 September 2019 due to the success of The Great British Bake Off and The Circle.73 For children, the Young Audiences Content Fund, which is administered by the British Film Institute, will provide up to £57 million for programming over the next three years.74 These are positive steps on which public service broadcasters can build. However, as Professor Patrick Barwise noted, their ability to do so depends on the resources available to them.75 We discuss funding and the future of the PSB compact in Chapter 4.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic viewers

53.The other demographic about which we heard concern was black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) viewers. Several witnesses argued that public service broadcasters had not done enough to appeal to BAME audiences. A report by digital.i found that 50 per cent of TV viewing by white people was of PSB channels, but this fell to 36 per cent among BAME viewers.76 Sir Lenny Henry, an actor and broadcaster, told us: “British BAME viewers are leaving PSBs in their droves and going to SVODs in far higher numbers than their white counterparts. All the studies show this.”77

54.The Campaign for Broadcasting Equality noted that Ofcom’s 2017–18 annual report found that people from BAME backgrounds were less satisfied with the BBC on every measure, except for BBC News.78

55.A number of witnesses agreed that providing the right content was key and that this could be achieved through diversity behind the camera and among commissioners. BAME people are underrepresented across UK film and TV production. Only 3 per cent of people working in the British film industry are BAME and just 2.2 per cent of UK TV is directed by BAME creatives.79

56.Many sectors of the economy struggle to achieve a diverse workforce. As we have found in previous reports, the creative sector faces two particular challenges.80 First, industries such as TV have a greater need than other sectors to have a workforce which reflects the range of demographics of the UK in order to be relevant to all audiences. Second, there are several barriers impeding those from less affluent backgrounds from entering the creative sector. Jobs are often freelance for short-term projects and either unpaid or poorly paid, excluding those without independent means. Meanwhile, careers advice in schools often fails to raise awareness that there are a wide variety of opportunities for careers in the creative sector. ScreenSkills noted that they had a number of programmes to “inspire school age children about the exciting careers in screen, to running new entrant programmes, to programmes aimed at helping individuals progress their careers—and all with inclusion at their heart” but they argued that the Government needed to adopt a more strategic approach to skills.81 We discuss skills further in Chapter 3.

57.The lack of available data makes it difficult to compare the diversity of those working on productions for public service broadcasters with those working on productions for SVODs. SVODs are under no obligation to release such data and, although PSBs report on the diversity of their workforce, 48 per cent of PSBs’ programmes are made by independent production companies which do not have the same reporting requirements.82

58.Project Diamond, run by the Creative Diversity Network, is a voluntary online system used by the public service broadcasters and Sky to obtain diversity data on programmes they commission. It has received 44,000 responses, but this represents only a 26 per cent response rate.83 Margot James MP, the then Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, told us that the Government was considering legislation to give Ofcom power to oblige production companies to provide diversity data.84 Ofcom has the power to collect data on disability, gender and race and wrote to Jeremy Wright, the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to ask for the power to collect data on other protected characteristics.85

59.Notwithstanding the lack of data, we were concerned to hear from several witnesses that public service broadcasters were not as successful as SVODs in championing BAME representation behind the camera and in the creative process. Sir Lenny Henry told us that a survey he had conducted for Broadcast magazine found that BAME-led production companies find more opportunities with SVODs than public service broadcasters.86

60.The Campaign for Broadcasting Equality concluded: “Netflix, Amazon and other SVODs are providing valuable additional services and opportunities for BAME programme and film makers that are not available via Public Service Broadcasters.”87 The Campaign for Broadcasting Equality and TV Collective gave examples of BAME creatives who could not find work from PSBs but were commissioned by SVODs.88

61.This was corroborated by Andrew Chowns, Chief Executive of Directors UK, who said that SVODs were “much more comfortable with the idea of a diverse workforce. You look at cast pictures and hear accounts of people working with them, and it seems there is not the same lack of diversity”.89

62.Charles Lauder, Chief Executive Officer, Indie Club, warned that PSBs were not doing enough:

“It is clear, when you look at the numbers, that BAME communities, people with disabilities and others are not involved enough in the decision-making. The question that needs to be asked of the PSBs is, within those contexts of working, where there have been innumerable trainings and initiatives, why is it that people from those communities are neither retained nor promoted within the organisations? In the end, that is part of how you will determine what kind of content is made.”90

63.Across the BBC, 15.3 per cent of staff are from BAME backgrounds and 20 per cent of on-air staff paid over £150,000 a year are BAME. The BBC argued that it was: “doing more than any other broadcaster on diversity and, on and off-screen, we are more diverse than ever.”91 It drew attention to its £2.1 million Diversity Creative Talent Fund and said that its Commissioning Code of Practice put diversity at the heart of the commissioning process and that this was reflected in high-profile BAME talent such as Stormzy in Noughts and Crosses, David Oyelowo in Les Miserables and Anita Rani in Countryfile.

64.Ms Rani was the subject of media attention in June 2019 when she said: “I feel like I have to justify why I should present things more than anyone else because I’m an Asian woman. And on top of that, I’m blooming northern.” She revealed that when she met the production team for a documentary on Bollywood she was presenting she was “the only brown face in the room”.92

65.Marcus Ryder, Chief International Editor at the China Global Television Network, argued that it was difficult to tell whether the BBC’s in-house production crews were becoming more diverse because the BBC changed the way it reported data following the merger of BBC Studios and BBC Worldwide.93 Previously, BBC Studios focused exclusively on production and BBC Worldwide managed distribution. In 2018 9.6 per cent of BBC Studios staff were from a BAME background compared with 19.2 per cent of staff at BBC Worldwide. Following the merger, in 2019 the BBC reported that 14 per cent of all BBC Studios staff were from a BAME background. Mr Ryder said that although the BBC provided data by ‘job family’ across the organisation, such as commissioning and programming, these figures were distorted by the inclusion of BBC World Service and BBC World News, which operated in countries with large BAME populations.

66.Ofcom found: “ The merger of BBC Studios and BBC Worldwide has led to less transparency being reported about the diversity of BBC Studios in the UK. This has led to a reduction in visibility of diversity in production.”94

Commissioning and the creative process

67.We heard that the process of commissioning and developing programmes played an important part in appealing to younger and BAME viewers. Georgia Brown, Director of European Originals at Amazon, explained:

“We have a diverse selection of commissioners, all of whom are relatively new to the game and quite young. That absolutely helps with the content we develop and commission … We find that young audiences really want, and connect incredibly well with, authentic programming—programming that is commissioned and developed for them.”95

68.Pact suggested that the BBC should show more ambition in its commissioning policy, while Andrew Chowns, Chief Executive of Directors UK, said that British television was “getting a big wake-up call at the moment to be more embracing of innovation and creativity”.96

69.A number of witnesses felt that SVODs were not only more likely to work with creatives from different backgrounds but also more likely to give them freedom to be authentic in their work. Jasmine Dotiwala, Head of Youth Engagement and Media at the Media Trust, told us:

“SVODs allow everyone to be their authentic selves and they create content which is respected by communities without them feeling that their authenticity is being chipped away all the time. I have often developed and nurtured new talent for different TV companies and once you bring them in certain companies will let them be their authentic selves and certain companies will not.”97

70.A similar view was expressed by Andrew Chowns, Chief Executive of Directors UK: “A lot of the members of Directors UK who work for Netflix tell me how refreshing it is to work for it, because it does not tend to micromanage you … It sets them a creative brief and lets them get on with it. It is very nurturing of creativity”.98

71.Sir Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder noted that the subscription model created a commercial incentive to appeal widely: “the economic model—by its very nature—is built around maximising the number of programmes which are highly valued by as broad a range of people as possible to encourage them to sign up.”99

72.Jay Hunt, Creative Director, Europe and Worldwide Video at Apple noted:

“It is extremely difficult for a terrestrial broadcaster to super-serve a particular demographic in this market when absolute volume of audience matters. If you are the BBC and you are dealing with the issue of the universality of the licence fee, being very popular with a tiny demographic is extremely difficult. … it is similar for a commercial broadcaster. Volume audiences still matter. That is how you monetise via an advertising model, and it is extremely difficult.”100

73.Netflix agreed: “The fact that our business model is not dependent on achieving a specific size of audience at a particular time of the day means we can take greater creative risks and invest in a broader range of content that is reflective of the diversity of our membership.”101 One respondent to our survey raised this point and believed that SVODs “tend to take greater risks, and be of far greater quality, than original drama programming on the BBC/ITV/Channel 4.”102

74.However, Peter Kosminsky, Director, Stonehenge Films was concerned that SVODs did not foster creativity. He said:

“when you are at the commissioning stage of the process, unless you can describe the programme being pitched in three sentences, Netflix will not commission it. The SVODs have a completely different mindset. Because we are British, we are all embarrassed to say that what lies at the base of what we do is artistic. Forgive us, but we think of ourselves as artists. That is not the mindset there.”103

75.Channel 4 told us that it aimed to innovate, reflect diversity and different points of view, and stimulate debate. It stated: “Channel 4 is required to take risks and challenge the status quo.”104 Channel 4 was praised for its work.105 Audience research for Ofcom by Kantar Media found that Channel 4 was held up, alongside Netflix, as a good provider of wide representation and authentic portrayal.106 It was perceived by audiences as “modern, edgy and diverse”, in contrast with the “establishment, stiff, white, middle-class and politically correct” BBC.107 We heard examples of how Channel 4 supports creatives from different backgrounds on- and off-screen, with Peng Life, which brought YouTuber Elijah Quashie to a mainstream audience, and the Bafta-nominated The Big Narstie Show given as recent high-profile examples.

76.Younger audiences are increasingly turning towards SVODs while spending less time watching public service broadcasting. Public service broadcasters face a difficult choice in dividing limited resources between appealing to older and younger viewers with different viewing habits and tastes. However, they must produce content which serves and reflects all audiences in the UK and the legitimacy of the licence fee depends on this.

77.The subscription model incentivises SVODs to produce content which reaches a range of audiences. This is because their success depends on building a catalogue of programmes which—as a whole—appeals to the widest range of potential subscribers, rather than judging success on the size of the audience for a given programme. For this reason, they can take creative risks on individual programmes. They have also made effective use of personalisation.

78.Some witnesses argued passionately that there was a problem with BAME representation in the TV sector, especially at the BBC. They cited employment data, reports of discriminatory practices and poor practices in the commissioning process. We note that the BBC and others are taking steps to address this. We believe that there is not enough data for us to opine on the substance of this issue. Nonetheless, perception is of paramount importance in this context and data show that BAME viewers spend less time watching PSBs than others.

79.As with other areas of the creative sector, the uncertain nature of freelance work and lack of adequate careers guidance present barriers to people from less advantaged backgrounds and BAME people from entering the TV sector. PSBs have a special role to play in lowering such barriers. They should do more to involve people from diverse backgrounds in their commissioning processes and behind the camera.

80.We recommend that Ofcom should report on the diversity of commissioning teams at public service broadcasters to ensure that under-served audiences are represented at all stages of programme development. The Government should empower Ofcom to collect data on the diversity of production crews making programmes for public service broadcasters, whether in-house or independent.

Bringing the nation together

81.Public service broadcasters uniquely provide ‘event television’ which attracts a large number of viewers and provokes discussion across the country. They can simultaneously appeal to people of all ages and from all backgrounds. Ofcom noted: “Even with the decline in total TV viewing minutes, national events in 2018, especially in sport, still attracted huge audiences.”108 England’s 2018 World Cup semi-final against Croatia had a peak audience of 26.5 million on ITV.109

82.Claire Enders, founder of Enders Analysis, said: “The public service broadcasting system has always dominated the high viewership of universally free events.”110 The finale of Bodyguard and David Attenborough’s Dynasties were cited by the BBC as examples of “moments that unite the nation”.111

83.ITV also stressed the importance of the shared experiences which PSBs’ high viewership can bring: “PSB channels reach millions of people each day and bring the whole UK together even at a time of deep division. Creating shared moments for the UK lies at the heart of the purpose of our PSB channel”.112

84.The idea of commissioning ‘fewer, bigger, better’ programmes was advocated by Roger Mosey, former Editorial Director of the BBC, who felt that the BBC spent too much money on poor entertainment shows. He said: “the BBC should ask itself how many episodes of Pointless (currently showing episode 32 out of 55 in series 21) or Bargain Hunt (into series 52) the world needs. By contrast, popular successes such as Blue Planet, Bodyguard, Line of Duty—along with regular blockbusters such as Strictly Come Dancing—repay the extra investment by both winning large audiences and being distinctive.”113

85.The ‘fewer, bigger, better’ strategy also found support from Together TV, which argued for “doubling-down on high quality news output and live events that drive distinctiveness.”114

Listed sports events

86.Many witnesses felt that the PSBs’ exclusive right to bid for certain sports events should be extended to support them in bringing the nation together. Listed events must be shown on a universally available free-to-air channel either live (category A) or as highlights (category B).

Table 1: Listed events

Category A (Live)

Category B (Highlights)

The Olympic Games

Cricket test matches played in England 

The FIFA World Cup finals tournament

Non-finals play in the Wimbledon tournament

The FA Cup Final

All other matches in the Rugby World Cup finals tournament

The Scottish FA Cup Final (in Scotland)

Six Nations Rugby tournament matches involving home countries

The Grand National

The Commonwealth Games

The Derby

The World Athletics Championship

The Wimbledon Tennis finals

The Cricket World Cup—the final, semi-finals and matches involving home nations’ teams

The European Football Championship finals tournament

The Ryder Cup

The Rugby League Challenge Cup Final

The Open Golf Championship

The Rugby World Cup Final

Source: House of Commons Library, Listed sporting events, Briefing Paper, Number 802, 4 October 2019, p 5

87.Listed events often attract large audiences, including among younger people, and therefore generate high advertising revenue for commercial PSBs. Dame Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of ITV, gave live football as an example of where under-35s still watch ITV’s linear service. Year 12 students whom members of the committee met felt that one of the key roles of PSB was ensuring everybody could watch big sports events. However, they felt that too many events were on subscription channels only and that these were prohibitively expensive.115  Analyst Mark Pocock told The Times that viewers could have to pay £900 to access all Premier League games across Amazon Prime, Sky Sports and BT Sport.116

88.Professor Robert Beveridge argued: “It is vital that we continue and expand the listed events system. The spiralling costs of sports rights has placed may events out of the reach of PSBs.”117 Professor Petros Iosifidis, Professor Patrick Barwise and Professor Des Freedman agreed.118

89.Roger Mosey, former Director of Sport and Director of London 2012 at the BBC, said: “I would be in favour of modestly increasing the list: perhaps including the Champions League final and the Open in golf as the kind of events that can bring significant sports-interested parts of the nation together for shared moments.”119

90.In its report on Modernising the United Kingdom Policy Exchange argued that the Government should review the list with a view to widening access and suggested women’s national football tournaments, England’s home test cricket matches and the men’s and women’s Cricket World Cup semi-finals and finals as candidates for addition.120

91.In July 2019 Jeremy Wright MP, the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, began a consultation on adding the Paralympic Games to the listed events and said that he planned to consult later in the year on adding women’s equivalents of men’s events to the list.121 Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced in September 2019: “ I have written to the relevant rights holders to seek their views about adding women’s sporting events to the Listed Events regime. So where a men’s event is listed, the women’s equivalent would be too. I believe that this would be an important step in giving female sporting talent the coverage they deserve and putting men’s and women’s sport on an equal footing at last.”122

92.The BBC has helped to build the profile of women’s football: 28.1 million people watched the BBC’s coverage of the 2019 World Cup, compared with 12.4 million for the 2015 World Cup. However, without listed status the event’s popularity could give rise to a subscription service buying the rights.

93.An important way in which public service broadcasters can fulfil their remit of appealing to all audiences is through ‘event’ television such as sport, landmark drama and documentary series and live entertainment. At a time of division, public service broadcasters play a role in unifying the country through shared experiences.

94.The listed events regime provides important protection for the availability of major sports events. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should consult sporting bodies, broadcasters and the public with a view to increasing modestly the number of listed events. This could include events such as The Ashes and The Open Golf Championship. We welcome the Government’s plans to add equivalent women’s events and the Paralympic Games to the list.

19 For example written evidence from Pact (PSB0030); written evidence from Professor Diane Coyle (PSB0005); Q 173 (Jay Hunt); written evidence from Sky (PSB0042)

20 Written evidence from the COBA (PSB0044)

21 Written evidence from HM Government (PSB0045)

22 Written evidence from the BBC (PSB0052)

23 Select Committee on Communications, Public Service Broadcasting: short-term crisis, long-term future? (2nd Report, Session 2008–09, HL Paper 61)

24 Ibid.

25 Written evidence from the Voice of the Listener and Viewer (PSB0006)

26 Written evidence from Professor Patrick Barwise (PSB0072)

29 Written evidence from Age UK (PSB0019)

34 Written evidence from Professor Philip Booth (PSB0001)

38 Written evidence from Directors UK (PSB0021)

40 See Appendix 4

41 Reuters Institute, Digital News Report 2019, p 68:–06/DNR_2019_FINAL_1.pdf [accessed 9 August 2019]

42 Written evidence from ITV (PSB0060)

44 Written evidence from UKTV (PSB0013)

45 Ofcom, Annual report on the BBC (24 October 2019) p 11: [accessed 24 October 2019]

46 Ofcom, Annual report on the BBC (24 October 2019) p 12: [accessed 24 October 2019]

47 Ofcom, Media: Nations UK 2019 (7 August 2019), p 19: [accessed 19 August 2019]

48 See Appendix 4

49 Ampere Analysis, The UK VoD market (2019) p 9: [accessed 4 November 2019]

50 See Appendix 4

53 Written evidence from Pact (PSB0030)

54 ‘DG Tony Hall defends making BBC Three online-only’, BBC News (6 March 2014): [accessed 19 August 2019]

55 BBC, ‘The BBC in the Internet Era’, 2 March 2015: [accessed 19 August 2019]

56 BBC Trust, Service Review of BBC Television (July 2014) p 14: [accessed 19 August 2019]; BBC, Annual Report and Accounts 2017/18 p 65: [accessed 19 August 2019]

57 BBC, Group Annual Report and Accounts 2018/19 p 149:–19.pdf [accessed 19 August 2019]

58 See Appendix 6; Kantar Media, Representation and portrayal of audiences on BBC television (25 October 2018) p 24: [accessed 19 August 2019]; Q 54 and Roger Mosey, ‘Crisis at the BBC’, The Sunday Times (21 April 2019):–11e9-b696-822cbbf2340e [accessed 21 August 2019]

59 Matthew Moore, ‘BBC attempt to lure young viewers by cutting News at Ten backfires’, The Times (14 September 2019): [accessed 16 September 2019]

60 Ofcom, Annual report on the BBC (24 October 2019) p 11: [accessed 24 October 2019]

62 Ofcom, Annual report on the BBC (24 October 2019) p 8: [accessed 24 October 2019]

63 Ofcom, Annual report on the BBC (24 October 2019) p 10: [accessed 24 October 2019]

64 See Appendix 4

65 Written evidence from Professor Diane Coyle (PSB0005)

67 Ofcom, Children and parents media use and attitudes: Annex 1 (29 January 2019) p 59: [accessed 19 August 2019]

68 Ofcom, Online survey with children aged 12-15 (2017) p 39: [accessed 5 September 2019]

69 Written evidence from the Children’s Media Foundation (PSB0012)

71 Select Committee on Communications, A privatised future for Channel 4? (1st Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 17)

72 Written evidence from Channel 4 (PSB0048) and written evidence from ITV (PSB0060)

73 Written evidence from ITV (PSB0060); Alex Farber, ‘GBBO and Circle drive C4 to record youth share’, Broadcast (3 October 2019): [accessed 7 October 2019]

74 Written evidence from the British Film Institute (PSB0028)

76 digital.i, Mind the Viewing Gap (November 2017) p 6: [accessed 19 August 2019]

78 Written evidence from the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality (PSB0056)

80 Select Committee on Communications, Skills for theatre: Developing the pipeline of talent (3rd Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 170) and Select Committee on Communications, UK advertising in a digital age (1st Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 116)

81 Supplementary written evidence from ScreenSkills (PSB0062)

82 Ofcom, Media Nations: UK 2019 (7 August 2019) p 51: [accessed 19 August 2019]

85 Ofcom, Diversity and equal opportunities in television (September 2019) p 37: [accessed 18 September 2019]

87 Written evidence from the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality (PSB0056)

88 Q 128; written evidence from TV Collective (PSB0058)

91 Supplementary written evidence from the BBC (PSB0066)

92 Ian Youngs, ‘Anita Rani says “posh white men” should not be the default on TV’, BBC News (17 June 2019): [accessed 19 August 2019]

93 Marcus Ryder, ‘Television Statistics and “Diversity Gaslighting”’, Black on White TV (3 July 2019): [accessed 21 August 2019]

94 Ofcom, Annual report on the BBC (24 October 2019) p 18: [accessed 24 October 2019]

96 Written evidence from Pact (PSB0030) and Q 75

99 Written evidence from Sir Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder (PSB0057)

101 Written evidence from Netflix (PSB0041)

102 See Appendix 4

104 Written evidence from Channel 4 (PSB0048)

105 Written evidence from the British Film Institute (PSB0028)

106 Kantar Media, Representation and portrayal of audiences on BBC television (25 October 2018) p 3: [accessed 19 August 2019]

107 Kantar Media, Representation and portrayal of audiences on BBC television (25 October 2018) p 11: [accessed 19 August 2019]

108 Ofcom, Media Nations: UK 2019 (7 August 2019) p 32: [accessed 19 August 2019]

109 ‘World Cup 2018: England defeat watched by 26.5m’, BBC News (12 July 2018): [accessed 19 August 2019]

111 Written evidence from the BBC (PSB0052)

112 Written evidence from ITV (PSB0060)

113 Written evidence from Roger Mosey (PSB0038)

114 Written evidence from Together TV (PSB0007)

115 See Appendix 4

116 Victoria Brzezinsky, ‘Dealwatch: Sports TV Packages’, The Times (29 June 2019): [accessed 19 August 2019]

117 Written evidence from Professor Robert Beveridge (PSB0025)

119 Written evidence from Roger Mosey (PSB0038)

120 Policy Exchange, Modernising the United Kingdom (August 2019) p 72: [accessed 19 August 2019]

121 Written Statement HCWS1751, Session 2017–19, 18 July 2019

122 DCMS, ‘Nicky Morgan’s speech to the Royal Television Society’ (18 September 2019): [accessed 19 September 2019]

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