As subscriptions to TV streaming services overtake those to traditional pay TV in the UK, VLV's Policy Advisor Sophie Chalk asks is public service broadcasting at the crossroads?  

UK pay tv channel logos

In the wake of subscription to TV streaming services overtaking traditonal pay TV, Ofcom has said that British TV will have to change the way it operates if it wants to compete with the internet giants.

The 'Big Shift'

Lord Hall, Director General of the BBC, recently described this change as the ‘Big Shift’ in a speech to the RTS Conference. He highlighted two impacts this will have: that content will become less UK specific as global platforms commission programmes and public service broadcasters (PSBs) will be unable to afford drama and other high-cost content as the global giants force up budgets.

All the PSBs are developing their online services to counteract these trends but this feels like a race against time. By the time the PSBs reinvent themselves, will their brands have lost crucial recognition among 18-25 year olds who are now happy to pay for boxsets from streaming platforms?

Counteracting fake news

In his RTS speech the Secretary of State highlighted that for Government the most important aspect of public service provision is to counteract the rise of fake news.

The Government is working to tackle the threat of disinformation with its Digital Charter and Internet Safety Strategy White Paper.

To address the decline in the reach of the PSBs, it has asked Ofcom to recommend how to maintain PSB prominence. And it is trying to increase production of UK-specific children’s content with the pilot Contestable Fund.

The future of UK broadcasting

Regulation to support public service broadcasting has been in force since 1955 because successive governments have held that broadcasting is beneficial to society.

We are now at a crossroads where the future of our broadcasting system is uncertain. PSB will fail in its mission to bring the nation together, inform and entertain us unless drastic steps are taken.

The BBC budget needs to be increased, but instead it faces an uncertain future after two successive raids on the Licence Fee; PSB prominence regulation will be increasingly irrelevant as more people use devices where it doesn’t apply; and introducing internet regulation to counter disinformation will be a huge policy challenge.

All this makes it clear that the next few years will be busy ones for VLV if we are to ensure the future health of our broadcasting system which is envied by many around the world.


Published by: VLV

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