Digital U.K., the platform operator of Freeview and of its satellite twin Freesat, which provide free British television, has been renamed as Everyone TV, it was revealed at the 2023 Outside the Box conference in London on Thursday.
Everyone TV is backed by U.K. public service broadcasters (PSBs) BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. The name change comes with a revised mandate for the org – “to lead the evolution of free, universal, high-quality television, in a way that protects and strengthens the social glue provided by Britain’s broadcasting heritage.”
The conference reignited the ongoing debate in the U.K. that often pits the PSBs against the global streamers. Some of the opening salvos were fired by Everyone TV CEO Jonathan Thompson in his keynote. Thompson spoke about the concept of universality where shared experiences on PSBs – like the England women’s soccer team winning the UEFA Women’s Championship and Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral – created connections between British people, were under threat.
Coming down heavily on algorithms, Thompson said: “Allow the algorithm to give you the TV you want to watch – not what the broadcasters want you to watch,” adding that such innovation should not become the sole or even the main gateway to British viewers being able to find British content and shouldn’t lead to echo chambers where audiences are served what they know they already like.
“Every day, it seems, we hear a warning from the dark side of social media of the real dangers when consumer outcomes are determined only by an algorithm, based on the philosophy that more of what you want is all you need,” Thompson said. “Let’s not make the same mistakes – and fall into the trap of allowing the future of how people find and watch TV to be shaped not just partially – but entirely – by global players whose fundamental responsibilities are not to British viewers or the strength of democracy in Britain.”
Thompson, and several other speakers at the conference, touched on the issue of ‘prominence’ – where popular online platforms are legally required to carry designated PSB on-demand services and give them prominence, as determined by media regulator Ofcom, so they are easy to find on user interfaces in the future – which is being addressed in the upcoming U.K. Media Bill.
“Brexit” writer James Graham said that streamers benefit from British writers and voices cutting their teeth in British PSBs, citing the example of “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge who has a series deal at Amazon. “Amazon will be utterly perplexed by the threat to that pipeline, because what is the problem you’re trying to fix? Everybody – public service and private – benefit from this,” Graham said.
Former BBC controller Patrick Holland, who now serves as executive chair of Banijay U.K., said that it is a “misnomer” that it is easier to get commissioned on PSBs compared to the streamers, describing British content as a “huge success” thanks to PSBs.
Former U.K. culture secretary John Whittingdale said that he was “mystified” why there is a debate around PSBs. “There is no argument about the importance of public service broadcasting. Yes, we need to look at how we sustain it in a very rapidly changing world technologically,” Whittingdale said. On the subject of distinctive British content on streamers, Whittingdale cited Apple TV+ shows “Slow Horses” and “The Essex Serpent” as examples.