Insights Ofcom consults on proposed changes to BBC’s Operating Licence requirements


The BBC’s Operating Licence sets regulatory conditions designed to ensure that the BBC fulfils its Mission and Public Purposes, that audiences across the UK are well served by the BBC, and that it provides distinctive output and services.

Ofcom recognises that the BBC is facing a challenging market and economic climate, including intense competition from well-funded global players, pressures on its licence fee funding, and rapid changes in audience behaviour. It therefore recognises the need for the BBC to transform and that this requires it to make some difficult decisions and trade-offs.

However, Ofcom says that it has also been clear with the BBC that as it shifts greater focus to online provision under its “digital first” strategy, it must continue to provide for all audiences. That includes continuing to offer a broad range of important content, including high-quality local programming.

Ofcom says that it also wants the BBC to do a better job of explaining planned changes to its services to viewers, listeners and other broadcasters, in a consistent and open manner.

The BBC has requested revisions to its Operating Licence to enable it to implement certain changes to its programming on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 2 and on its national and regional variations of BBC One and BBC Two, known as “opt-out” services. After careful consideration, Ofcom proposes in summary to:

  • accept the request to reduce the quota for news and current affairs on Radio 5 Live from 75% to 70%, which would allow the BBC to broadcast some additional sports content; evidence suggests that this would help extend its reach among younger people and those from lower socio-economic groups;
  • reject the request to remove the quota for live music on BBC Radio 2; live music is a key element of the distinctiveness of BBC Radio 2, which is important to safeguard with quotas; Ofcom proposes instead to amend the quota to exclude repeats and apply only to genuinely live or new specially recorded music; and
  • accept the request to reduce certain quotas for news and non-news programming on the “opt-out” services to enable the BBC to increase its investment in online news, reflecting where audiences are increasingly turning to for news content, as well as in high-quality, high-impact, local content to be shown on the network channels.

The proposals are set out in full in the consultation document. The deadline for responding is 18 January 2023. Ofcom says that it will take all responses into account before reaching its final decision. To access the proposals and for information on how to respond to the consultation, click here.