HomeInsightsGovernment publishes response to DCMS Committee’s report on “The Future of Public Service Broadcasting”

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In its response, the Government says that it “wholeheartedly agrees” with the Committee’s assessment that “the need for public service broadcasting remains as strong as ever”. Given the huge changes to the way people view audiovisual content, the Government says that the ability of public service broadcasters (PSBs) to “make programmes that appeal to the breadth of the UK population and unite audiences across generations remains undisputed”.

In terms of the future of public service broadcasting, the Government says that it is “supportive” of a modern system that is “dynamic, relevant and can continue to meet the needs of UK audiences in the future”. It points to its own review of public service broadcasting, including the formation of a PSB Advisory Panel, and to Ofcom’s ongoing Small Screen Debate. The Government intends to bring together the work of these reviews, including the Committee’s findings, and will set out its position and next steps for this work later in 2021.

In response to some of the Committee’s specific recommendations, the Government agrees that universality is “a core tenet” of public service broadcasting and that linear TV “will continue to play a significant delivery role for the years to come”. The Government says that it wants to ensure that any changes to the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) regime will support the future shape of public service broadcasting. It plans to publish its response to its consultation on the renewal of the DTT multiplex licences shortly.

However, the Government does not agree with the Committee’s view that due to the delays to full fibre broadband rollout, a wholly online public service broadcasting system allowing universal access is not yet viable. The Government says that it has connected 97% of the country to superfast broadband. Further, it says that while some of the actions fall to the Government, any move to a wholly online public service broadcasting system would need to be industry-led and dependent on factors such as the finalisation of industry standards and the development of consumer products based around these standards.

The Government agrees with the Committee that PSBs need to attract and retain younger audiences and that, through its review of public service broadcasting, it is considering whether the legislative and regulatory framework for PSBs needs to change so that PSBs can deliver their objectives, including engaging effectively with younger audiences. However, the Government says that PSBs themselves “need to make certain they are at the forefront of trends in commissioning, distribution and marketing to ensure their programmes reach and appeal to those particular audiences”.

In response to the Committee’s call for the Government to provide assurances that the issue of decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion will not be used as a bargaining tool during the ongoing licence fee settlement negotiations with the BBC and S4C, the Government says that it is keeping the issue of decriminalisation under active consideration. “It is one of many important issues that must remain an ongoing part of the Government’s wider roadmap for reform of the BBC, which also includes the ongoing licence fee settlement negotiations and the mid-term review of the BBC Charter.”

In response to the Committee’s call for the Government to either come up with a strong alternative to the BBC licence fee or to strongly support the current model and actively aid the BBC in driving down evasion, the Government says that it does not agree that a decision on the future of funding for public service broadcasting needs to be made now. Looking to the longer term, the Government says that there are “more fundamental questions about the correct funding model, shape and structure of the BBC”. In the Government’s view, with intensifying competition from streaming platforms, “the BBC cannot retreat but must instead be equipped to step up to project British values and distinct quality programming with renewed vigour and ambition as our national champion”. The Government also says that it is right to gather evidence on the options before coming to a decision, which it is doing through its review of PSBs and with the help of the PSB Advisory Panel.

In response to the Committee’s recommendation that the Government urgently update the legislation on the prominence of PSBs, the Government says that it is committed to acting on Ofcom’s prominence recommendations, as set out in Ofcom’s 2019 review, including through legislation, and will do so as soon as the legislative timetable allows. It expects to set out next steps later in 2021.

On the Committee’s recommendations for PSB content hosted on other streaming services to be clearly labelled as such, and for streaming services to share top line viewing data, the Government again points to its ongoing review of public service broadcasting, which covers the relationship between PSBs and streaming platforms. It agrees with the Committee that streaming services should share top line viewing data with Ofcom and “would hope that such data could be provided on a voluntary basis in the first instance”.

The Committee also recommended that the Government broadens the Digital Markets Unit’s remit to consider whether the dominance of online platforms gives them undue influence over the ability of consumers to access public service broadcasting content online and through streaming. In response, the Government says that a central part of its new pro-competition regime for digital markets will be a mandatory code of conduct to govern the relationships between digital platforms and “different groups of users which rely on their services”. It plans to consult on the new regime later in 2021 and legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows. To read the Government’s response in full, click here.