The Government has published a new white paper that sets out proposals for changes to UK public service broadcasting in the next decade.
Launched ahead of ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5’s ten-yearly licence renewal process and the forthcoming BBC charter renewal, the Government says it wants to change legislation to allow UK broadcasters to fight the headwinds of changed audience habits and technological development.
Some of the measures are already public, such as the licence fee freeze and plans to sell off Channel 4. Changes to the purposes/objectives of public service broadcasters will allow them to move certain types of programming to online-only or to one of their family of channels.
Away from public service broadcasting, new measures include closing the regulatory loophole that allow US streaming service to evade UK broadcasting rules.
Overview, as published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport:
- Freeze the price of the TV licence at £159 for two years. It will then rise in line with inflation. The government believes this settlement will give the BBC the money it needs to fulfil its mission and public purposes effectively, while making sure we support households through a difficult time.
- Increase the BBC’s commercial borrowing limit from £350 million to £750 million, pending the agreement of appropriate oversight mechanisms, to support the BBC in accessing capital and investing in ambitious growth plans.
- Pursue a change of ownership of Channel 4. This will ensure that Channel 4 can continue to thrive and grow its impact for years to come as part of the wider public service broadcasting ecology in the UK. Channel 4 is and will remain a public service broadcaster, just like other successful public service broadcasters – ITV, STV, Channel 5 – that are already privately owned.
- Make the importance of programmes broadcast in the UK’s indigenous regional and minority languages clear in legislation, by including it in our new public service remit for television. We believe that regional and minority language broadcasting has an important role to play in the UK’s broadcasting ecology, providing not only an opportunity for speakers to access content in a language familiar to them, but a means of cultural expression for communities across the UK.
- Update S4C’s public service remit to include digital and online services and remove the current geographical broadcasting restrictions. These changes will allow S4C to broaden its reach and offer its content on a range of new platforms in the UK and beyond. We will also legislate to support S4C and the BBC in moving away from the current, somewhat rigid, framework requiring the BBC to provide S4C with a specific number of hours of television programming, so that they can together agree an alternative arrangement that better suits the evolving broadcasting landscape and the changing way in which people access content.
- Replace the outdated set of fourteen overlapping ‘purposes’ and ‘objectives’ that our public service broadcasters must contribute to with a new, shorter remit, focussed on the things that they are uniquely positioned to deliver and that would make us poorer as a nation – culturally, economically and democratically – if they were not provided. We will make it clearer that public service broadcasters must contribute to this remit and will be accountable for the extent of their contributions.
- Give our public service broadcasters greater flexibility in how they deliver their remits, while ensuring there are effective powers available should intervention be necessary. This will make it easier for them to make their content available on a wider range of free-to-air platforms.
- Introduce a new prominence regime for on-demand television. This will ensure public service content is both available and easy to find on designated TV platforms. This includes appropriate recognition for the unique relevance of the public service content produced by STV and S4C in particular areas of the UK. Our new prominence regime for on-demand services will be proportionate and flexible, so it can adapt to the differences across the market and ongoing changes, without creating undue burdens and negatively impacting consumer choice and experiences. Ofcom will also be given the necessary new enforcement powers.
- Make changes to the local TV licensing regime to enable the extension of the local TV multiplex licence until 2034 and subject to the same conditions that apply to the national digital terrestrial television (DTT) multiplexes. We will consult on options for the renewal or relicensing of individual local television services at the same time.
- Protect the UK’s terms of trade regime, while simultaneously updating it to reflect changes in technology and the way viewers are watching content from our PSBs. We will also consider whether there is a need to extend aspects of this regime to radio and audio producers that produce programming for the BBC.
- Bring larger TV-like video-on-demand providers that are not currently regulated in the UK but who target and profit from UK audiences under Ofcom jurisdiction. We will also give Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a new Video-on-demand Code, similar to the Broadcasting Code, to ensure TV-like content, no matter how audiences choose to watch it, will be subject to similar standards. These changes will mean UK audiences will be better protected from harmful material and better able to complain to Ofcom if they see something they are concerned about. Respecting issues of free speech and proportionality, smaller, lower risk on-demand services in the UK will continue under existing rules.
- Close the loophole that allows unregulated internet-delivered services to appear on TV sets in the UK by designating additional regulated electronic programme guides. This will have the effect of bringing internet-delivered services listed on those guides within the scope of regulation by Ofcom. We will also keep under review the information gathering and enforcement powers available to Ofcom in this area.
- Carrying out a review of the licence fee funding model ahead of the next Charter period. We will set out more detailed plans for that review – which will complement the previously announced Mid-Term Review of the BBC Charter – in the coming months.
- Continuing to support long term commitments to support cross-border broadcasting on the island of Ireland including funding for the Northern Ireland digital terrestrial television multiplex that has carried RTÉ and TG4 services to Northern Ireland since 2012. We will also consider the scope to ensure the prominence of regional and minority language services. More information….
- Consulting on embedding the importance of distinctively British content directly into the existing quota system. We will be clear that this includes programmes that reflect the lives and concerns in different parts of the UK, and any legislative approach we take will allow for further consideration to ensure it is proportionate and achieves its aim of guaranteeing the continued production of content that could only have been made for British audiences.
- Looking at making qualification for the listed events regime a benefit specific to our public service broadcasters, in recognition of the key role that they play in distributing content which is both distinctively British and of interest to British audiences, and recognising that all current services that qualify for the listed events regime are operated by public service broadcasters. We will also undertake a review to look at whether the scope of the listed events regime should be extended to include digital rights.
- Conducting an evaluation of the contestable fund pilot. This will include considering in detail the lessons in determining whether a contestable fund model would – in the longer term – provide additional value to the breadth and availability of high quality UK produced public service content, which might better meet audience needs.
- Initiating a review looking at whether to introduce a revenue cap for ‘qualifying independent’ producer status, to ensure that that status remains an effective lever in promoting the growth of the sector.
- Continuing to support our highly skilled and innovative creative industries through creative sector tax reliefs. Recent research has demonstrated their phenomenal impact, with every £1 of High-end TV Tax Relief delivering returns of £6.44. At the same time, production supported by that tax relief increased from £1.2 billion in 2017 to £4.1 billion in 2021.
- Supporting the British Film Commission to facilitate the growth of seven geographic production hubs – including one in each nation – and numerous new studio developments all across the UK. In each of these regions there are already some of the most talented creative and commercial individuals of any industry, and the skills landscape must evolve to take advantage of this opportunity.
- Consulting in early 2023 on new proposals to champion the community radio sector and, where necessary, bringing forward changes to licensing requirements through amendments to the Community Radio Order 2004. In addition, the government remains committed to legislating to give effect to the conclusions of the 2017 consultation on radio deregulation when parliamentary time allows.
- Exploring ways to support UK broadcasters through possible changes in the wider advertising ecosystem. For example, through the Online Advertising Programme we intend to consider how to create a more level playing field between broadcast and online advertising, including on the issue of platform liability, as we consider what measures could be introduced to improve accountability and transparency.
- Ensuring that the UK’s trade policy complements and protects the UK’s audiovisual public policy framework, including maintaining our membership of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Transfrontier Television and, consequently, our European Works status. This status ensures that the UK continues to contribute to vital cultural enrichment across nations, allowing us to collaborate effectively with our European neighbours and distribute culturally important works across Europe.
- Establishing a new, pro-competition regime in digital markets. This will drive a more vibrant and innovative digital economy across the UK and will complement the existing competition regime and regulatory powers available to sectoral regulators such as Ofcom.
- Working with Ofcom to develop legislative proposals to address the divergence in provision of access services between broadcast and on-demand services. We will engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure that legislation is clear, proportionate and fit for purpose.
- Enabling the long term renewal of DTT multiplex licences through to 2034. In addition, the government will ask Ofcom to continue to track changes to DTT viewing and to undertake an early review on market changes that may affect the future of content distribution before the end of 2025. More information…
- Engaging further with the radio industry, and gaining a deeper understanding of the policies and practices of the smart speaker platforms, in order to ensure that we are putting in place the best possible regime to allow radio to continue to reach its listeners well into the future.