Ofcom’s PSB review: Live broadcasting facing serious challenges

UK’s communication services regulator Ofcom has recently published its five-yearly periodic review (2014 to 2018) of the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in the UK. However, this time, the mandate of this exercise went beyond only reviewing the services by PSB channels like the BBC television services, ITV and STV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C and how far the broadcasting industry in the UK are fulfilling the PSB’s remit; and also included contribution to a wider public engagement programme, Small Screen: Big Debate, on the future of PSB, its relevance for younger generations, what regulatory framework might be needed in an increasingly changing media industry and how this can contribute to wider UK economy. 

The review’s thrust is on addressing challenges facing the UK broadcasting industry like declining viewership and changing viewing habits in the context of on-demand global content services like Netflix and YouTube. The report is richly informing the debate on the future of the PSB by examining what are audience and listener’s expectations from PSB, as citizens and consumers, in an increasingly internet-led-information world and how those expectations can be delivered. 

The report provides evidence of the PSB sustaining UK’s creative economy across a wide range of genres like news, current affairs, drama and children programming and original UK content; in comparison to other commercial broadcasters and global streaming services.  

The report flags concerns of declining viewership particularly among young viewers including children, falling revenues from advertising as well as license fee, need to further improve and personalize broadcaster’s online services like BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub. However, people still associate PSB with quality, accuracy and trustworthiness. 

The review makes a case for extending the length of time programmes are available on on-demand PSB platforms like the iPlayer as the demand for programmes on these services increased by 65%.

Analysing the increasing popularity of video-sharing platforms (VSPs) like YouTube, Facebook and TikTok, the report notes that there is no dearth of content on these platforms which could contribute to the public service objectives however the risk from harmful content on these platforms in comparison remain high. Keeping this in view, the report informs that the government intends to grant new powers to Ofcom to regulate online harms and VSPs established in the UK. 

The review is also contributing to the public debate on PSB by providing access to the data gathered by the Ofcom through an interactive data report. 

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