UK: Ofcom Reacts To The Unprecedented Competition Facing Public Service Broadcasters

Last Updated: 29 July 2019
Article by Hayley Brady and James Balfour

In light of the prevalence of global on-demand and internet content services (such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube), Ofcom has today announced a range of measures to ensure that the Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) in the UK remain easy to find on TV guides, there is high quality content for children and teenagers, and has also launched the start of a national debate on the future of public service media (Small Screen: Big Debate).

Breaking these aspects down:

  • Ensuring Public Service Broadcasting remains visible:
    • Ofcom has updated its rules that ensure traditional PSB TV channels are prominent and easy to find within on-screen programme guides.  This update is by way of an amendment to Ofcom's EPG Code and the amendments to the Code are intended to ensure that BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 remain easy to find.   The Code will also set minimum levels of prominence for other PSB and Local TV services.
    • Currently, Ofcom is unable to extend 'prominence' rules to television delivered via the internet. Parliament would need to introduce new legislation to extend regulation to online platforms and services.  As part of Ofcom's measures, they have recommended to Government that new rules are established to ensure that PSB content is clearly visible on major viewing platforms, such as smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks.  There will then need to be further consideration given as to when a broadcasters' on-demand service would qualify under any new prominence rules (i.e. would need to deliver an appropriate range of high-quality PSB content).
  • Quality Programming for Children and Teenagers:
    • Ofcom has also been working to ensure that public service broadcasters provide a range of high-quality and original content for children and has 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.
    • ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 have responded to Ofcom, on Ofcom's request, with plans for how they would improve their provision for children on TV and online. These broadcasters have now committed to creating and investing more in original UK programmes made just for children and teenagers, including live action, entertainment and news.
  • Small Screen: Big Debate
    • Ofcom has launched a nationwide forum called Small Screen: Big Debate.  This will involve a series of discussions with broadcasters, production companies, government, Parliament, industry bodies, viewers' groups and national and regional representatives on the wider questions around sustaining PSB in the
    • The debate will focus on 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.
    • At the end of the year, Ofcom will publish its assessment of the state of PSB, and how it has performed over the period 2014 to 2018.

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