- Traditional channels must remain easy to find under new Ofcom rules
- Commitments by ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to extend children’s output
- Ofcom believes time is right for national debate on future of PSB
Ofcom has today announced a range of measures to ensure that public service broadcasters (PSBs) continue to deliver high-quality content for UK viewers and listeners.
But public service broadcasting is now at a crucial juncture, as broadcasters face unprecedented competition from global on-demand and internet services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.
So Ofcom is setting out a package of measures, including recommendations to Government, to support PSB now and in the years ahead. Today we are:
- updating rules that ensure traditional PSB TV channels are prominent and easy to find within programme guides;
- making recommendations to Government for new legislation to help ensure PSB programmes and players are also clearly visible on internet-connected devices, such as smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks;
- endorsing a range of commitments by ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to increase their focus on high-quality children’s programmes; and
- launching Small Screen: Big Debate – a national forum to discuss the future of public service broadcasting on TV and online. This will call for Parliament, regulators, broadcasters and viewers to be involved in developing a new framework for public service media in future.
Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s Group Director for Content and Media Policy, said: “Our traditional broadcasters are among the finest in the world. But they’re facing unprecedented challenges from competition and new technology.
“So we are ensuring their channels remain easy to find on TV guides, and convening a national debate on the future of public service media – including how we safeguard its benefits for future generations.”
Ensuring PSB programmes remain visible
First, we have updated rules that ensure traditional PSB TV channels are prominent and easy to find within on-screen programme guides. This will safeguard the positions of BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5. We are also setting minimum levels of prominence for other BBC channels – such as CBeebies and BBC News – and local TV services.
Currently, Ofcom cannot extend ‘prominence’ rules to television delivered via the internet. Parliament would need to introduce new legislation to extend regulation to online platforms and services.
So we are also today recommending 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.
In order to qualify under our recommended new prominence rules, broadcasters’ on-demand services would need to deliver an appropriate range of high-quality PSB content. This might include requirements around particular genres, such as children’s, current affairs and factual content, and programmes made specifically for UK viewers.
Quality programmes 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. We have 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.
Last year we asked ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 to respond 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. As a result:
- ITV will increase the budget of CITV by almost 10%, to fund more original commissions for 6-12 year olds, and develop a new online news and current-affairs offering for 12-15s;
- Channel 4 will develop a new digital-first service for 13-16 year olds. This will focus on a new YouTube channel and include new commissions especially for teenagers; and
- Channel 5 will double the budget for its Milkshake children’s output, and increase its original programme hours from 29 to 50 annually by 2021.
These combined commitments are a positive response to Ofcom’s concerns. We will monitor broadcasters’ implementation of their plans and continue to work with industry to ensure children and teenagers enjoy a range of high-quality programmes from the PSBs.
Small Screen: Big Debate
More broadly, Ofcom believes the time is right for national debate on future of PSB. So we are launching 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 future. We will also examine the views of television viewers across the country through a series of focus groups. Ofcom aims to play a central role in driving this discussion, drawing on a range of views, evidence and research.
Given the pace of change in television viewing habits, technology and competition, the debate will need to address questions such where PSB content should be available in future; who should provide it; and how to guarantee a mix of high-quality UK content online.
By the end of the year, we will publish our assessment of the state of PSB, and how it has performed over the period 2014 to 2018. We will bring together evidence not only about the main PSB services, but also the range of media services – television, radio, online and elsewhere – available to people in the UK. This will provide us with evidence on PSBs’ performance, and help us identify areas of risk and potential opportunities to be investigated more closely.