Small Screen: Big Debate – Ofcom’s review of PSB for a sustainable future

posted on 09 March, 2020   (public)

A new and interactive approach in order to initiate an open and wide-ranging debate on the future of public service broadcasting in the UK

On 27 February 2020, UK regulator Ofcom published a review of the public service broadcasting* (PSB) over a five-year period (2014-2018) and an accompanying interactive data report.

Ofcom is required, by the Communications Act 2003, to review delivery of the objectives of PSB established by legislation and to ensure that a range of high-quality television programme is provided.

Key findings of the review include:

  • Trustworthiness and quality of PSB content: The volume and range of content provided by non-PSB services have widely increased. However, this large volume of content is of varying quality and trustworthiness and audience continues to highly value the PSB content which has shown a high level of compliance with due impartiality and in general, with the purposes and objectives defined by legislation.
  • Support to original UK content production: The PSB is a major actor in the UK’s wider creative economy and supports original UK content across the nations and regions, even though the level of investment has been also maintained these last years due to the increasing third-party funding (co-production,…).
  • Declining revenues: Maintaining the current level and range of programmes remains a challenge as, despite innovative initiatives from the PSB, the declining of TV advertising and licence fee’s revenues is not fully balanced by the new kind of revenues (digital advertising, on-demand services…).
  • The competition of global players: Maintaining the PSB’s current level of investment and diversity will also “come under pressure as audiences’ viewing habits continue to change and competition from large global players increase”.There is a clear shift in the consumption towards global online and on-demand content services, especially among younger viewers, more likely to access PSB content through a global player than through the PSB on-demand service. The decline of live TV audiences is also observed for other PSB channels in Europe (see below) which will have to face the same challenges. However, it is worth noting that the UK has currently the highest penetration of SVOD compared to its neighbouring countries.

The new review also intends to feed and encourage an open public debate about both the future role of the PSB channels and the role of the wider media industry.  

For this purpose, Ofcom has launched a dedicated website,

  • The website provides easy-access to all Ofcom and third-party research - notably through the supporting interactive data report - and to other materials relevant to the national conversation about the future of PSB. 
  • The aim of Small Screen: Big Debate is to facilitate a series of discussions with broadcasters, production companies, government, parliament, industry bodies and national and regional representatives, and others, on the future of public service media with a view to making recommendations to Government regarding key issues: “What PSB should deliver; how it should be delivered and funded and what regulatory and policy tools may be needed in the future”.
  • Ofcom is hosting events across the UK to hear as broad a range of views as possible and will host an industry conference in May to debate options for PSB in the future. The outcome of the events together with the regulator's research and analysis will help inform Ofcom's recommendations to government which will be circulated for consultation in the summer.

*The PSB channels in the UK: the BBC public service television channels and the main channels of ITV, STV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C.

Source: Ofcom

Further EPRA Background: At the 51st Meeting to be held in Antwerp on 14-15 May 2020, a working group on regulators and citizens will exchange best practices on how to engage with citizens.