Access to public service content has expanded dramatically, but the public service broadcasters continue to play a dominant role
In 2003, when the Communications Act came into force and we started our first review of public service television broadcasting, the world was very different. Digital television was for a minority. Freeview was only a year old. Domestic broadband was rare. Now Freeview is the leading television platform, 87% of homes watch digital services, and the majority of homes have broadband access.
Overall, the public service broadcasters are meeting public purposes, but gaps are appearing in some areas
Overall, audiences believe that the main public service channels are achieving the purposes of public service broadcasting. Provision of and investment in public service broadcasting has been broadly stable over the past four years. The amount of UK originated programmes in peak time has declined slightly since 2003, but some genres have seen increases, particularly factual programming. Most people still feel that the public service broadcasters (PSBs) deliver well-made, high quality programmes; satisfaction with delivery of news and information is particularly high. The BBC is particularly valued, and is seen by audiences as the cornerstone of public service broadcasting, demonstrating that publicly funded provision can ensure delivery of valued content, even in today’s rapidly changing media environment.
The pace of change is likely to intensify, with significant implications for achieving public service purposes
As audiences embrace digital media, new opportunities for public value are being created. Choice for consumers and citizens is likely to continue to expand as digital switchover completes and take-up of broadband services continues. Control through personal video recorders and access to video on the internet will become more widespread and faster, both at home and on the move. The next generation of broadband could allow high definition video content on demand. Virgin Media has already announced up to 50Mb/s services in some areas and BT will provide up to 100Mb/s access in some new housing. A new wave of television equipment may become widely adopted, integrating broadband access and storage capability to bring together access to content on the internet and broadcast television on the same living room screen.
Audiences value competition for the BBC in provision of public service content, which will require new sources of funding in a digital age
Our vision for the future delivery of public service content is driven by the ongoing needs of the audience, as access to digital television becomes universal and take-up of new platforms continues to grow. It is for a system which:
- delivers high levels of new UK content meeting the purposes of public service broadcasting;
- provides public service content which is innovative, original, challenging, engaging and of consistently high quality;
- is available in a form, and on a range of platforms to achieve maximum reach and impact;
- ensures competition for the BBC in each public purpose with sufficient scale to achieve reach and impact;
- exploits the distinctive benefits of different delivery platforms; and
- supplies diverse content which meets the needs of all communities within the UK.
The existing model for public service broadcasting is not well equipped to respond to audiences’ evolving requirements
Adapting to future opportunities and risks to ensure this vision is realised requires flexibility: to respond to changes in the way audiences access content and the kind of content they want; to direct funding in ways which address those changing needs; and to exploit the distinctive potential of new platforms to meet public purposes.
New approaches will be needed to meet the needs of the UK’s nations, regions and localities
In the long-term the issues facing national, regional and local provision are very similar to those for the rest of public service broadcasting, and the long-term choices represented by the four models described in the previous section are the same here as in other genres. But in the short to medium term there are a number of testing issues which need to be addressed. And the broadcasting landscape and the political needs differ between the UK’s nations, so each needs a tailored solution.