A new future for public service broadcasting

04 July 2019

Ofcom has today announced measures to ensure public service broadcasters (PSBs) continue to deliver high-quality content for UK viewers and listeners.

Public service broadcasting has been a powerful cultural force for more than 80 years, but broadcasters now face unprecedented competition from global on-demand and internet services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.

So, we are setting out measures to support PSB now and in the future. Today we are:

Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s Group Director for Content and Media Policy, said: “Our traditional broadcasters are among the finest in the world. But they’re facing unprecedented challenges from competition and new technology.

“So, we are ensuring their channels remain easy to find on TV guides, and convening a national debate on the future of public service media – including how we safeguard its benefits for future generations.”

Ensuring PSB programmes remain visible

We have updated rules that ensure traditional PSB TV channels are prominent and easy to find within on-screen programme guides. This safeguards the positions of BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5. We are also setting minimum levels of prominence for other BBC channels – such as CBeebies and BBC News – and local TV services.

Currently, Ofcom cannot extend ‘prominence’ rules to television delivered via the internet. So, we are also recommending that Government establishes new rules to ensure PSB content is clearly visible on major viewing platforms, such as smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks.

To be covered by the new prominence rules, broadcasters’ on-demand services would need to deliver an appropriate range of high-quality PSB content.

Quality programmes for children and teenagers

We have also been working to ensure public service broadcasters provide a range of high-quality and original content for children. We have identified a need for more of these programmes, particularly for older children – and for more shows that help children understand the world, and reflect their diverse lives on screen.

Last year we asked ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to respond with plans for how they would improve their content for children on TV and online. They have now committed to creating and investing more in original UK programmes made just for children and teenagers, including live action, entertainment and news. As a result:

  • ITV will increase CITV’s budget by almost 10%, to fund more original programmes for 6- to 12-year-olds, and develop a new online news and current-affairs programmes for 12- to 15-year-olds;
  • Channel 4 will develop a new digital-first service for 13- to 16-year-olds. This will focus on a new YouTube channel and include new programmes especially for teenagers; and
  • Channel 5 will double the budget for its Milkshake children’s content, and increase its original programme hours from 29 to 50 a year by 2021.

We will monitor how these plans are implemented and will work with industry to ensure children and teenagers enjoy a range of high-quality programmes.

Small Screen: Big Debate

We believe the time is right for a national debate on future of PSB. So, we are launching a nationwide forum called Small Screen: Big Debate.

This will involve discussions with broadcasters, production companies, government, Parliament, industry bodies, viewers’ groups and national and regional representatives on questions around PSB’s future. We will also listen to television viewers across the country through focus groups.

Given the pace of change in television viewing habits, technology and competition, the debate will need to address questions such as where PSB content should be available in future; who should provide it; and how to guarantee a mix of high-quality UK content online.

By the end of the year we will publish our assessment of PSB and how it has performed between 2014 and 2018. This will include evidence not only about the main PSB services, but also the media services – television, radio, online and elsewhere – available to people in the UK.

This will provide us with evidence on PSBs’ performance, and help us to potential risks and opportunities that could be looked at more closely.