A blueprint for sustaining and strengthening public service broadcasting for the next decade was today published by Ofcom in its statement Putting Viewers First.
The new approach is set out in a series of recommendations to government and Parliament. It will ensure that people are able to watch programmes they value highly, based on what audiences told Ofcom in the largest-ever programme of opinion research on public service broadcasting.
It will also ensure that high quality content will be available on-demand on digital television, over the internet, on mobile devices as well as in the TV schedules.
The main recommendations are:
The recommendations take advantage of the opportunities created by the revolution in digital media, including the use of broadband and mobile networks to distribute content.
The blueprint also addresses profound structural changes in the commercial broadcasting sector, such as digital switchover and pressures on television advertising, which will create a shortfall of up to 235 million per year by 2012.
If this is not addressed, programmes such as regional news, current affairs, UK children's programming and some types of drama and documentaries will in the future only be available on the BBC.
Ofcom has set out a series of detailed options designed to ensure this does not happen:
Given these changes, Ofcom has today decided to adopt the changes proposed in its September 2008 consultation to allow a restructuring of ITVs regional news in England and the Scottish Borders.
This will ensure that ITV prioritises programmes that audiences value the highest, such as peak time regional news coverage and original UK content.
In response to the consultation Ofcom has modified its original proposals in relation to the quota for factual non-news programmes in Northern Ireland.
Ofcom wants to support investment in the wide availability of high quality original programming and UK and international news.
Ofcom proposes to position Channel 3 services as commercial networks with a limited public service commitment. Modest licence benefits should be balanced by appropriate obligations on a sustainable basis.
Ofcom recommends that Five should continue to broadcast national and international news and original UK content. In the longer term Fives obligations would be much more consistent with the proposals for Channel 3.
The BBC has offered to share its regional news infrastructure and picture access with ITV this represents an important development. Ofcom will consider whether this raises editorial or competition issues and whether it would put regional news on a sustainable footing in the in the long-term.
However, given the risks and uncertainties, Ofcom believes that the Government should plan for an alternative way of securing regional news for the devolved nations and English regions from 2011.
This could be delivered by independent news consortia, funded through competitive tender and with a broadcast programme slot preferably on Channel 3. Total funding required could be 30-50 million a year.
A new organisation, with public purposes at its heart, should be established; Channel 4 is well-placed to be central to this. It would have a new remit to deliver news, current affairs, programmes for older children, programmes made outside London and a full range of digital media content.
This could be created by forming partnerships, joint ventures or mergers between Channel 4 and other organisations. These could generate new value through cost savings, synergies and new opportunities for growth.
One option would be for Channel 4 to form a new relationship with BBC Worldwide, the BBCs commercial arm. Another option could be for Channel 4 to merge with a commercial organisation, such as Five. Any partnership would need to maintain and strengthen delivery of the public purposes.
Partnerships should complement market provision and ensure economic sustainability, accountability, choice and competition. New governance and accountability arrangements would be essential.
If resources and competing priorities allow, the UK Government should consider bespoke solutions for the devolved nations, if the other recommendations do not sufficiently meet viewers needs.
A new dedicated channel has been recommended by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission. Alternatively, the UK and Scottish Governments and Parliaments could consider setting up a competitive fund to support initiatives in Scotland-wide television, local television, online and radio.
S4C should continue delivering Welsh-language programming with secure funding from the UK Government. Competitive funding could be used for extra English-language programmes.
Ofcom's consultation also identified emerging support for competitive funding to support greater provision in Northern Ireland.
A second public service institution could play an important role in delivering content for older children. However, that provision may not go far enough so competitive funding should be considered for children's content made in the UK.
Ofcom is creating more opportunities for local television than have ever existed before by releasing geographically targeted spectrum to the market.
In addition, extra spectrum capacity could be reserved to support local media specifically.
Ofcom will be conducting new work to explore the provision of local content across television, radio, broadband and online.
There are three main types of funding for government to consider. They are:
Decisions on many of these matters are needed by the Government within the next year as the current public service broadcasting model is not sustainable.
Ofcom's own work programme will include:
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said:
Many people have forcefully expressed their views in the wide-ranging debate about the future of public service broadcasting. But there is one group whose opinions matter more than anyone else: viewers and listeners.
The central challenge is how a strong and historically successful public service broadcasting system can navigate from analogue to digital.
Our proposals aim to sustain the quality and creative spirit of public service broadcasting while capturing the opportunities of broadband distribution, mobility and interactivity.
These proposals set out what we believe is required to fulfil a vision of diverse, vibrant and engaging public service broadcasting content across a range of digital media.