UK: Public Service Broadcasting In The UK: Ofcom's Third Review

Ofcom published its third review of public service television broadcasting on Wednesday, 2 July. Ofcom is required to review the performance of public service broadcasters periodically. Its last review was published in 2009. This third review focusses on the opportunities and threats arising from the growth in internet use.

The review looks at the BBC, ITV, STV, UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C. It examines how well they have been fulfilling their public service broadcasting (PSB) purpose of providing television programmes dealing with a wide range of subjects, of a high standard and catering for as many different audiences as possible. It also considers options for maintaining and strengthening the current system.

Current delivery The review found a high level of audience satisfaction: 79% of viewers believe PSB is delivering on its purpose. Over half of all television viewing is to the main PSB channels, rising to 70% if all the PSB channels are included. PSB accounts for 95% of all television news viewing.

In 2013, the PSBs invested just over £2bn in new UK programmes (excluding sports content), compared to around £350m from non-PSBs However, the total level of investment in new UK-originated content has fallen by over £400m in real terms since 2008. The review highlights drama as a particular area of concern: investment has dropped by 44% since 2008. There has also been a 41% decline in the amount of new UK drama being shown on the PSB channels.

Immediate issues The review identified a number of immediate issues:

  • Provision of news for young people – their viewing hours for TV news have dropped by 29%
  • Content tailored to the UK nations and their regions – there is a mismatch between public expectations and how PSB is delivering in practice
  • Diversity and representation – over half of viewers interviewed from black ethnic groups felt under-represented and unfairly portrayed in PSB programmes. Around half of disabled viewers felt under-represented. Half of lesbian, gay and bisexual people viewers thought that they were under-represented, although only 16% felt they were negatively portrayed. 21% of viewers in Scotland and 26% of viewers in Northern Ireland felt they were negatively portrayed
  • Religious programming – the review notes that "provision has all but ceased of religion and ethics" at a time when "matters of religious belief are prominent in public debate"
  • Children's programming – spending has fallen by £15m and there is very limited provision of non-animation programming beyond the BBC
  • Music, arts and formal education – PSB provision has significantly reduced since the removal of specific quotas in 2003

Independent production Ofcom considers that the consolidation that has been occurring in the independent production sector could bring benefits as well as risks. While overseas investors might be willing to provide greater levels of risk capital to fund PSB commissions, consolidation could put new entrants and small and medium-sized enterprises at risk. The full effect of the acquisition of UK broadcasters and production companies by international companies (six of the top seven UK producers are now owned by large foreign media companies) is not yet clear. Ofcom will keep this area under close review.

Key trends Ofcom identified a number of key trends that will shape the PSB landscape over the next five to 10 years:

  • Changing technologies and models of distribution – superfast broadband availability will rise to 95% by 2017, with the potential for a broadband universal service obligation that could allow people to stream HD channels
  • Changing user interfaces driving new consumption habits – a move towards search and recommendation models built around personal viewing data
  • New international players – streaming and download providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime who are increasingly investing in content
  • New platforms – it may be increasingly difficult for PSBs to maintain current large audiences in the face of competition from global online platforms

It also identified trends among younger people which may indicate future patterns of consumption:

  • Devices – 90% of younger consumers own a smartphone and they are most likely to say they would miss their mobile phone more than any other device
  • New viewing patterns on VoD services – young adults are more likely to have an on-demand subscription in their home and to want variety and a mix of global, particularly US, content
  • Growth in the use of short-form video (such as on YouTube)
  • A shift towards non-linear services

Threats and opportunities The review identifies growth in online and on-demand viewing, especially among younger people: only 50% of 16–24 years olds' viewing is through live TV. Young people's behaviour may be an early indication of a more substantial shift across all age groups to on-demand and online viewing.

The implications of further audience fragmentation would be decreasing advertising revenues, increasing distribution costs and potentially decreasing reach, impact and availability of PSB content. The review warns that the current challenges to the funding of PSB content may increase if current market dynamics accelerate.

While in recent years broadcasters have made savings through reducing programme-making costs and changing the types of programmes they make, the review warns that they may not be able to repeat this in future and could face difficult programming decisions. To avoid this, the review says that PSBs will need to adapt to maximise commercial revenues and efficiencies.

However, it also says that the strength of the PSBs' brands, combined with their reach and impact, means they are in a good position to take advantage of changing viewer habits. They will, though, need to evolve as online viewing increases.

Options for maintenance and strengthening of PSB PSB is currently supported by benefits including access to digital TV spectrum, prominence on electronic programmes guides and the licence fee for the BBC. The review questions whether such benefits will remain effective in the internet age.

As online and on-demand viewing increases, rules guaranteeing access to PSB content and PSB prominence on linear TV are likely to need reforming to match changes in technology. The PSBs will need protection to ensure that their channels are widely available and easily discoverable, but should also be required to provide their services to all major devices and platforms. The review says that all the PSB channels' catch-up players should benefit from prominence and access to all major platforms.

Ofcom suggests that a more flexible model might be required to maximise Channel 4 Corporation's (C4C) potential. Consideration should be given to updating its framework to meet the needs of younger audiences, perhaps by allowing it to deliver some of its PSB obligations across all of its channels and services, rather than just through the Channel 4 service.

Although the review does not undertake any detailed analysis of the BBC, saying this is a matter for the Charter Review process, it does mention the extension of the licence fee so that catch-up users also pay as a potential positive development. This extension has now actually been agreed as part of the BBC's funding deal with the government.

Ofcom's conclusion on the 'retransmission fees' debate – some PSBs want pay subscription television platforms to pay to carry their channels – is rather negative. While recognising the additional funding it could bring, it warns that resolving disagreements would likely require significant regulation. It also points out that there is no guarantee that, in the case of ITV and Channel 5, all such fees would be spent on public service programmes.

Ofcom's response to suggestions on the introduction (or reintroduction) of quotas to address issues of under-provision in certain areas is also negative, as it believes this would likely come at the expense of investment in other forms of content.

The review raises the following questions to be considered in any update of the current rules:

  • Are the 'must offer' and 'must carry' regimes still fit for purpose given changing technologies?
  • Do the PSBs need protection in relation to carriage arrangements for services carried over the internet of the kind they have for carriage over broadcast networks?
  • Can the rules be designed to capture significant platforms only, given the likely future proliferation of platforms?

Finally, the review also raises some more radical options for increasing funding to the PSB system, if the need for intervention becomes more urgent:

  • Administered incentive pricing for spectrum
  • Review of the restrictions on advertising minutage on PSB channels
  • Deregulation of commercial references
  • Contestable funding
  • Levies on the revenues of pay-TV or distribution platforms, and copyright regimes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.