Maggie Brown at the Guardian has a useful summary of submissions for phase 2 of the OFCOM PSB Review.
Everybody seems a bit grumpy. Perhaps understandably…
Reading, Writing, Linking, Thinking, Talking
Maggie Brown at the Guardian has a useful summary of submissions for phase 2 of the OFCOM PSB Review.
Everybody seems a bit grumpy. Perhaps understandably…
Words and their interpretation are important.
As seen in this Guardian article featuring Sir Michael Lyons.
He added that when he read Ofcom’s second public service broadcasting review, published last month, he found the “wording relating to transferring Worldwide to Channel 4 … extraordinary”.
“At one point even [Ofcom chief executive] Ed Richards said of the wording he didn’t have responsibility for it … it’s a strange and brittle set of words,” Lyons said.
When asked what the BBC’s lawyers thought of the option of giving Channel 4 a slice of BBC Worldwide, he added: “My understanding is that it [Worldwide] can only be changed by statute and that would require public debate about whether or not that’s the right thing to do. Worldwide belongs to licence fee payers, not Ofcom and not the government either.”.
As I’ve said before interpreting legal documents may seem boring – but asking people precisely what they mean and to define their terms can be revealing.
I was interested to read this article from Tim Gardham of OFCOM in the Telegraph.
In particular this sentence;
“Ofcom has outlined a range of options, from the evolution of the status quo to alternative funding models. One option would be a fund available to commercial public service broadcasters to ensure future competitiveness in PSB without calling on the Treasury or taking from the BBC one single penny of the licence fee needed for its core purposes.”
It’s nice to read something that appears so supportive of the BBC.
But what does the qualification “needed for its core purposes” mean?
The BBC doesn’t have “core purposes”. According to the BBC’s Charter and agreement it has “public purposes”: I quote:
“The BBC’s main activities should be the promotion of its Public Purposes through the provision of output which consists of information, education and entertainment…”
The BBC’s public purposes are defined as:
sustaining citizenship and civil society;
promoting education and learning;
stimulating creativity and cultural excellence;
representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities;
bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK;
I hope OFCOM are not trying to start a debate about the BBC’s purposes as a way of taking away licence fee money from things which OFCOM thinks are not “core” e.g. entertainment. High quality entertainment programmes clearly stimulate “creativity and cultural excellence”.
What are these “core purposes” Tim mentions?
Postscript (1st September). And if Tim is thinking (as has already been suggested by OFCOM) that the money in the current licence fee settlement which has been earmarked to help digital switchover isn’t part of the BBC’s “core purposes”, then he should look at the very next clause in the Charter;
(f ) in promoting its other purposes, helping to deliver to the public the
benefit of emerging communications technologies and services and, in
addition, taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television.
Surely this money is supporting the public purpose outlined in f)? And surely that public purpose is just as important as the others?
Me responding to Roy Greenslade in the Guardian.
From OFCOM’s PSB review blog:
It was also apparent at the Westminster Media Forum seminar that there is a certain appeal and natural tendency to focus this debate on the future use of the licence fee. While that is obviously understandable given its legacy and its vocal supporters, it would be short-sighted to ignore the many other alternative funding sources that are available – if indeed, it is deemed by Parliament necessary to find money at all.
Direct funding, indirect benefits like access to spectrum, and levies on industry can and do already work as ways of funding public service broadcasting around the world. It would be good to see as much focus on these issues as has been given to the licence fee in this debate.
Indeed. See my anguished appeal here.
Funny if rather cruel article from the Register.
Peter Bazalgette’s speech to the RTS is here and worth reading in full.
He’s had this obsession for a while about selling off Radio 1 and Radio 2.
Suffice to say this that this idea is not even mentioned in OFCOM’s review. All it would do is undermine the licence fee and I doubt if it would help commercial radio either. Not a runner at all.
I share his doubts about taking public money damaging C4.
But would privatisation be the answer? Seems old fashioned.
And the reason that Today is the best current affairs programme is not really to do with competition or the lack of it. It’s just radio is a better medium for presenting current affairs and news than television and breakfast is an ideal time to listen. The future for current affairs may be to collaberate rather than compete but that’s another blog post.
However much to my surprise I found myself agreeing with the broad thrust of the speech.
Increasingly this whole review/debate seems old fashioned to me. Is the real answer to what’s happening in media to give Channel 4 public money to make more television programmes?
The sections in the speech about funding museums and other public institutions to make video and other content brings us neatly on to the next two documents from OFCOM’s review: Annex 8 and 9 (I read these next partly because Hilary Perkins suggested I did!)
These are curious documents and I’m not sure how they fit in with the rest of the review. My thoughts are:
It’s untrue that there isn’t enough public service content on the internet. There’s a lot in some genres, but in others there isn’t enough. I pondered the irony of the suggestion that education/learning content is a weak spot. Perhaps we need something like BBC Jam?
The definition of “public service content” seems extremely broad. A couple of people have said to me that if Guido Fawkes blog counts as public service content then pretty much anything does. Mind you the definition of what public service is in the UK has always been pretty broad. And that’s because at its very inception PSB it wasn’t so much about genre as much as who it was for. Reith wanted the home service to be for everyone. But the internet is becoming more dominant and sometimes the internet feels like a series of niches, not a broad mass medium. TV too is becoming a series of niches.
“Discoverability” seems to be a key problem as outlined at length in Appendix 9 particularly in genres where there’s not enough content. But will this be solved by spending more public money on content/programmes? Not much point if people can’t find them.
I was intrigued by the amount of public service content being produced by Government bodies in Annex 9. Is this money being spent wisely? Could it be spent more efficiently? Could it be more joined up/easier to find/discoverable? Should it be given to the Tate to make video content instead?
Mind you Bazalgette’s solution (“Boggle”) seems just like OFCOM’s public service publisher, which has already been ruled out. Some on Organ Grinder have unkindly implied that he’s pushing this as a way of expanding his empire. But there’s a bigger problem.
Again and again in this work you come back to the same dilemma. If you spend public money on content/programmes it has to be tightly regulated in some way. That inevitably leads you to an “Arts Council of the AIr” idea, no matter what you call it. Will “grants for outcomes” (Ed Richards latest idea) actually produce more diversity, more competition, better content and make it easier for people to access content?
Boggle feels like another quango waiting to happen. Do we need more bureaucracy and regulation?
Do we even actually need more content?
Part one is here. A reminder; these are my personal views.
The second document I’ve read from OFCOM’s review of Public Service Broadcasting is Annex 7: ” A synopsis of Oliver & Ohlbaun’s economic modelling of future scenarios for public service content”.
Traditional broadcasters need to reinvent themselves in order to adapt to the new media world which is being shaken up primarily by the internet. This synopsis gives some useful projections of what might happen as they do.
It is as one of my colleagues would say “chewy” i.e. lots of acronyms, diagrams and jargon.
The synopsis suggests four different things that might happen to the traditional commercial public service television broadcasters, with the worst case scenario being that the changes in media put them out of business.
But there is some data which gives cause for hope.
Figure 9 (p.15) gives some numbers for how traditional television advertising revenues might decline by 2020.
The two most optimistic scenarios see it declining by 0.4 billion or 0.7 billion pounds
Figure 7 (p.14) gives numbers for how revenue for web and mobile content might increase over the same time.
In the best cases it increases by 0.6 billion and 0.5 billion pounds.
So there is a possibility that by moving into the web and mobile the commercial PSBs could recover the revenue they lose from conventional tv advertising and maintain roughly their current position, presumably without throwing off their PSB obligations (which the research doesn’t refer to).
Clearly in order to make this move the commercial PSBs will need help. What kind of help is the question.
I would challenge the assumption which underlines this work that less investment in TV programmes is automatically a bad thing. In order to make the move commercial PSBs need to invest in platforms and web content rather than more programmes.
If more content is user generated the answer may be not to increase investment in content overall but concentrate on fewer, better more high quality programmes which can be put on mobiles and the web as well as conventional TV.
There is something curious about the final section of the report: 7.1: “Commercial viability of programme genres”.
This has a table (Figure 12 on page 18) which asserts that certain genres of programme are not profitable for commercial public service broadcasters. But there are no numbers attached to support it.
Are UK Children’s programmes really “very unprofitable” now (the table is for 2007), if CITV made £4 million for ITV last year?
N.B. In my previous job at the BBC I used to read long policy documents (including Ofcom‘s MIA on the BBC’s on-demand proposals) and summarise them for other people who were far more important than me.
Reading long policy documents is like watching Beyonce videos. Nothing to be proud of, in fact a rather unpleasant little habit, but I just can’t seem to stop.
So just to be clear this will be the first in the series of posts about OFCOM’s Public Service Broadcasting Review. But writing this has nothing to do with my current job at the BBC. Anything you read will be my own personal, irrational, ill-informed views and do not represent the BBC’s position in any way.
So the first document I’ve had time to read is OFCOM’s is Annex 10: “The Future of Children’s Television Programming”. To summarise imperfectly:
people are worried that the amount of public service television for children in the UK will decrease
commercial companies like ITV believe their public service obligations on Childrens TV damage their buisness and aren’t sustainable in the long run
putting more public money into Childrens TV programmes is one answer that’s been suggested
Are childrens programmes and channels inevitably not viable for commercial TV? Figures are hard to come by.
But this press report states that CITV made £4 million profit for ITV last year. And this scrap of financial information from the Competition Commission would seem to indicate that in 2006 CITV was part of a suite of ITV channels which were returning more revenue (£157 million) than they were costing to run (£75 million).
£4 million seems like a tidy sum of money to me (and its just over 10% of the 30 million that OFCOM claims is needed to support childrens programming).
So CITV seems to be the basis for a profitable buisiness which would still fufill public service obligations. CITV is a high quality service which offers the BBC some good competition. And, on digital switchover ITV could remove childrens programmes from ITV1 because everyone would have access to CITV (N.B. Correction – I’d forgotten that they had in fact already done this. Still, when terrestrial tv is switched off its possible that CITV’s audience might actually increase)
So how could CITV be made more profitable so that ITV could continue on with some public service obligations in this area and still make money?
Possibly the most dispiriting part of OFCOM’s document is this section:
The prevailing view among stakeholder responses was that while alternative platforms were an interesting possibility with plenty of potential, they were at best a long term solution and should only be seen as an addition to the existing framework. Some responses made clear their concerns that discussions over alternative platforms should not distract from the problems facing linear TV.
Some responses highlighted the different viewing habits for TV and the web as evidence that public service content could not be directly migrated to new platforms. One participant at our stakeholder seminar made the point that, as things stand, there is little public service content online. However despite this, responses from S4C among others said that public service content should be provided wherever there is an audience.
To consider the future of public service television without looking at all public service content – including television served up online leaves out something rather important. And it’s not true that there’s not much public service content available online. There’s actually rather a lot. It’s just that, apart from the BBC, it’s not provided by UK TV companies.
Television companies need to reinvent themselves as content providers and if they do that sucessfully they will make money and not need public subsidy. (There is a bit of work in the PSB review around this but I haven’t had a chance to read it properly yet – will blog when I’ve done so).
However the very next paragraph in the report gives some grounds for hope. SKTV’s idea for a childrens broadband site serving up video is a very good one – but this could be a commercial proposition, a kind of “Project Kangaroo” for kids. (Perhaps a “Joey” – joke stolen from Alan Connor).
Or CITV could also be an on demand broadband proposition as well as a TV Channel – would this be profitable?
I assume that Project Kangaroo will be serving up programmes for children on a commercial basis anyway. Isn’t this a potential solution for protecting public service childrens’ TV and commercial revenue at the same time?
I admit that my thoughts may not solve one of the key problems identified in this work; the provision of TV for older children. But this is quite a difficult group to get at in any medium for actually rather good reasons. It might be better to look at reaching this group in other ways e.g. online, on mobile. We might have to accept the fact that older children and teenagers just don’t watch as much television aimed at them as we would like them to.
Just in passing I think the idea for tax breaks and credits for childrens’ TV outlined in the document is a very good idea: simple, practical, easy to manage and doesn’t really require any new public investment.
Of course for any kind of broadband video offer for kids to be commercially viable it would require as many families as possible to have high speed broadband.
Rather than putting public money into Children’s TV programmes that they won’t watch OFCOM should be lobbying hard for public investment in the broadband infrastructure.
Everyone would benefit.
So to sum up:
I don’t believe we need further public investment in childrens’ TV beyond what the BBC and C4 and the other commercial PSBs are currently mandated to do.
Option One (evolution) set out in Ofcom’s work is the best option, but only if supported by major public investment in broadband alongside other things (I will blog more about these later).