U.K. media regulator Ofcom has issued a stark warning to public service broadcasters (PSBs) BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5, that unless they radically overhaul existing practices, they are in danger of losing further ground to streaming and online services.
Ofcom’s “Small Screen: Big Debate,” the org’s ongoing review of U.K. public service broadcasting, found that the sector is “at a critical juncture.” In 2019, only 38% of viewing among 16-34 year olds (and 67% among all adults) was of traditional broadcast content. One in four viewers of streaming services say they can imagine watching no broadcast TV at all in five years’ time, the study found.
To address this, Ofcom has made a number of suggestions. The current rules and laws around public service broadcasting date from when the internet was still in its infancy, and Ofcom is inviting views on changes to rules that will ensure PSB content is carried on different online platforms.
Ofcom is also calling for a new framework to establish clear goals for public service broadcasters, with greater choice over how they achieve them, and quotas to safeguard areas such as news. Companies should be required to set out, measure and report on their plans, with Ofcom holding them to account, the org suggests.
Other companies could become public-service media providers, says Ofcom. Alongside the content provided by existing PSBs, new providers could help deliver public-service media in future and this new content could focus on specific groups of people or types of programs. New providers could offer different skills, expertise and online experience – leading to wider benefits to audiences and the economy.
Ofcom also pointed out the potential for cross-media funding, such as a local or regional media fund, supporting collaboration between TV, radio, online and press publishers to strengthen local news. Deeper relationships between PSBs and other companies, particularly on platforms and distribution, could help them compete more effectively with global players, and reach wider audiences, the study found.
“Our traditional broadcasters are among the finest in the world. But television has witnessed a blizzard of change and innovation, with audiences turning to online services with bigger budgets,” said Ofcom chief executive Melanie Dawes. “For everything we’ve gained, we risk losing the kind of outstanding U.K. content that people really value. So there’s an urgent need to reform the rules, and build a stronger system of public-service media that can flourish in the digital age.”
“That could mean big changes, such as a wider range of firms tasked with providing high-quality shows made for, in and about the U.K.,” Dawes added.
Ofcom is consulting on questions from today’s proposals until March 16, 2021. In 2021, the org will launch a review of how the U.K. production industry operates.