HomeInsightsUK Channel 4: Ofcom consults on licence renewal

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As a public service broadcasting (“PSB”) channel, Channel 4 has a specific public service remit. Alongside other PSB channels, it contributes to the overall purposes of PSB which, pursuant to the Communications Act 2003, may be fulfilled by the provision of public service television services which, taken together, inform, educate, and entertain, reflect cultural activity in the UK and its diversity, and facilitate to an appropriate extent civic understanding and fair and well-informed debate on news and current affairs. Channel 4’s specific statutory remit is to provide a broad range of high quality and diverse programming which, in particular: demonstrates innovation, experiment and creativity in the form and content of programmes; appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society; makes a significant contribution to the need for public service channels to include educational programming; and exhibits a distinctive character. Channel 4 Television Corporation (“C4C”) also has a range of statutory media content duties which it can deliver across any broadcast or online services, including Channel 4 streaming services, including duties to make a broad range of media content of high quality that appeals to a culturally diverse society, to make high quality films to be shown in UK cinemas and to broadcast and distribute such content and films.

When setting or renewing PSB licences, the conditions Ofcom must impose include requirements to relating to the volume and scheduling of news and current affairs, programming commissioned from independent producers, original productions, programming made outside London and UK schools programming. Ofcom must also have regard to promoting the fulfilment of the PSB purposes, as discussed above, when setting the conditions and length of a licence.

On 6 December, Ofcom published a consultation on renewing the Channel 4 licence, which expires in 2024, for another ten years. The terms of the existing licence and proposed changes are set out in the Consultation document. Key changes include removing the licence condition requiring one news programme at lunchtime every weekday, reducing the number of hours of current affairs that must be broadcast in each calendar year from no less than 208 to no less than 178 hours, and reducing the current requirement that at least 56% of the hours of programmes included in the service in each calendar year are originally produced or commissioned for the service to at least 45% of hours each calendar year. Ofcom states that the proposals aim to strike a balance between allowing C4C to pursue its strategy to prioritise digital over linear growth, while continuing to safeguard its investment in distinctive UK content and protect delivery of the core elements of its output on Channel 4.

As previously reported by Wiggin, the Media Bill, currently going through Parliament, will make changes to the UK PSB regime. When it is passed, Ofcom will need to amend all existing PSB licences to reflect the new framework. However, in the meantime, agreement on the new licence terms will provide C4C with certainty and ensures it can benefit from the additional flexibility of the amended licence as soon as possible.

For more information and to respond to the consultation, which closes on 14 February 2024, click here.