Ofcom predicts the end of traditional broadcasting in the UK

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Ofcom has made the news today with predictions of the end for BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 as the online world is leaving current approaches behind

Ofcom has been consulting on the future of the UK TV industry as part of its Small Screen: Big Debate initiative. That phase of study is complete with the publication of a report today (8 December 2020). In many ways this is no surprise. In the UK (for those overseas) we fund the BBC (and part of Channel 4) through a TV licence scheme, and this allows for access to radio and broadcast TV. Apart from the BBC, the other broadcast channels are supported by advertising. It has been clear for some time this model is dated, with people regularly recording / time slip shows to skip advertising, or increasingly watching streaming services, many (most?) of which hold no advertising at all. The way the nation consumes TV is changing, and access to news and other information sources (eg party political broadcasts) is a requirement for the way elections currently work. We also (in the UK) have mandated access to certain sports events, which are legally obliged to be shown on one of the traditional channels (ie BBC/ITV/Channel 4 /Channel 5).

It’s unclear what this means in a world where people consume TV online / on phones / from downloaded streaming apps and don’t sit in a group around a TV set at a certain time of day to watch certain shows. Following the publication of their report, Ofcom is now consulting on a proposed framework, and will be taking views up until the 16 March 2021. It intends to make recommendations to government by the end of 2021. If you follow the link, there are plenty of documents available if you are interested.

So far, their main findings include recognition of the importance of public service broadcasting (PSB) with a range of ideas how to move forward. They will examine partnerships and widening the definition of PSBs to include new providers (or perhaps even involving the streaming giants?). In the words of Dame Melanie Daws the Ofcom Chief Executive:

“Our traditional broadcasters are among the finest in the world. But television has witnessed a blizzard of change and innovation, with audiences turning to online services with bigger budgets.
“For everything we’ve gained, we risk losing the kind of outstanding UK content that people really value. So there’s an urgent need to reform the rules, and build a stronger system of public-service media that can flourish in the digital age.
“That could mean big changes, such as a wider range of firms tasked with providing high-quality shows made for, in and about the UK.”

This is a debate with relevance to all UK TV viewers (and impacts BBC Radio as well). We will keep you posted.