The consultation comes as Ofcom reviews potential threats to the PSB system, including a shift to on-demand viewing and the entrance of new commercial online TV and movie services to the UK, such as Netflix and Amazon and a 17.3% drop in funding for original, first run programmes on PSB channels, which broadly includes all of the main five channels, plus BBC digital offshoot services.
Despite Ofcom research revealing that more viewers are "satisfied" with PSB TV programmes (77%, up from 69% in 2008), viewing on the main PSB channels accounted for just over half (51.1%) of all TV viewing in the UK in 2013, down from 60.8% in 2008 (excluding +1 channels). This drop is likely to have been influenced at least in part by the increased reach of commercial TV channels as a result of digital switchover.
A review of PSB TV by Ofcom has identified four areas it wants to consider further (full list below), including looking at the hotly contested area of "retransmission fees" that are charged by some digital TV platforms, notably Sky, for the carriage of PSB channels. Now it wants feedback on those findings.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "How people watch TV is changing but it is clear that viewers value programmes from the public service broadcasters.
"The entire TV industry must meet new challenges from an evolving media landscape, which brings risks and uncertainties. But our view is that the public service broadcasters are in a strong position to continue contributing to a successful and innovative sector."
Interested parties are invited to participate in the consultation by 26th February 2015.
Ofcom's four areas for further consideration:
- If Parliament wants to ensure PSB content has universal reach, current regulation around channel prominence and carriage may need to be reformed. Does 'universal' availability need to be redefined in an increasingly connected world?
- The PSBs may need greater flexibility in choosing how they deliver public service content, including online, on-demand and on mobile. Should the PSBs be regulated by organisation rather than by individual channel?
- Following significant consolidation in the production sector, is the current regulation of relations between broadcasters and the independent production sector still appropriate? Any proposed change would need to be tested against how it could help increase investment in UK content, improve the delivery of PSB content and support the UK independent production sector.
- Are there changes to regulatory or other arrangements which could help maintain and strengthen public service broadcasting? These could include retransmission fees, relaxing TV advertising rules or considering new tax breaks to encourage investment for example.
PSB channels are defined as being all BBC TV services (including HD), plus the Channel 3 services of ITV, STV, UTV as defined under their respective Channel 3 licences, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C.