Future of PSM: Ofcom concludes in-depth review by recommending a radical overhaul of the legislative framework

posted on 15 July, 2021   (public)

A transition from PSB to PSM to be fit for the digital age

On 15 July 2021, communications regulator Ofcom published detailed recommendations to the UK Government on the future of public service media. This publication marks the conclusion of the Small Screen: Big Debate – an unprecedented in-depth review on the future of public service media (PSM) which took place over two years and focused on why PSM matters and how current regulation can be modernised to support the sustainability of the PSM system. 

Ofcom's analysis has been informed by the views of audiences and stakeholders across the UK. In addition, Ofcom looked all around the world for inspiration and conducted extensive market analysis.


The review showed that:

  • public service programming remains highly valued by UK audiences
  • public service broadcasters are central to the UK creative economy.
  • PSM needs to reach the widest possible audiences, on TV and online to secure its future

Based on the findings, Ofcom recommends that the UK Government urgently brings forward primary legislation to

  1. Ensure a transition from public service broadcasting to public service media: through the introduction of a revised set of PSM objectives, securing and strengthening a broad range of programming that reflects the diversity of the UK and the ability to engage the widest possible audiences online and offline.
  2. Update the rules for prominence to include connected TV platforms: Ofcom is repeating its urgent call (issued in 2019) for legislation to secure prominence for live and on-demand public service content across all major TV services and platforms. New rules are required to ensure that PSM is made available and prominent on popular TV platforms. New legislation should give Ofcom monitoring and enforcement powers (e.g. dispute resolution).
  3. Update the rules on production of PSM content: to allow broadcasters and producers work together to deliver content for broadcast TV and online audiences.
  4. Update the rules for PSM providers: broadcasting licences will need to be modernised to allow PSM providers to adapt their services to meet changing audience across broadcast TV and online. In return for more flexibility, PSM providers must be accountable and ensure transparent reporting of performance. 

In addition, Ofcom cautions that a reform of the legislative framework may not be enough to support the sustainability of the PSM system and encourages the government/PSM providers to consider:

  • continuing to work together to develop more strategic partnerships amongst themselves and with the wider industry
  • allowing for complementary PSM provision by enabling additional providers to deliver new PSM content, alongside existing PSM providers
  • examining the case for fiscal incentives which could broaden PSM provision.

Statement: Recommendations to Government on the Future of Public Service Media (PDF - EN)

Source: Ofcom website 

In addition to the main report (Statement), Ofcom published five supporting annexes. Annex 1 on the prominence of PSM content is likely to be of particular  relevance for regulators.