UK media fit for the digital era: part II

4 October 2016

Digital presents enormous opportunities to the UK’s creative industries: new routes to global markets, new collaborations and new forms of creativity, to name a few. The UK starts with a comparative advantage based on our creative talent, tech-savvy consumers, and a thriving domestic sector alongside significant inward investment.

It is right for policymakers to be focused on securing the economic and industrial benefits of digital creativity, and on spreading these benefits across the UK. At the same time, we must continue to secure wider societal objectives. The success of our media ecology has made our culture and our democracy stronger.

If the UK gets its approach right, over the next decade, we can secure high levels of investment in a range of content; a production sector with a strong skills base, exporting even more than today; the universal availability of public service content with significant cultural and democratic impact; and competition between networks and platforms, with low barriers to entry for innovative services and low switching costs for consumers.

The BBC has a pivotal role to play in securing many of these outcomes. Policymakers do not have to choose between commercial success and the BBC. The two support each other.

The BBC’s mission – to educate, inform and entertain – may be timeless, but it must be delivered in new and different ways. We need to modernise to preserve public service broadcasting. The BBC brings the country together, whether through the Olympics or Strictly, and remains the UK’s most trusted news provider. We’ve proposed the creation of BBC Studios to ensure we remain one of the best programme-makers in the world. BBC Studios – and the removal of quotas associated with it – will increase the level of competition for the best creative ideas. The BBC will be open for business in the global export race, with BBC Worldwide as the world’s largest non-American TV exporter. These plans for the next decade require a solid foundation. The new Charter & Agreement, now published in draft, will deliver the strong and creative BBC the British public believes in.

The Digital Economy Bill provides another opportunity to ensure our policy frameworks are fit-for-purpose – regulation where necessary, deregulation where possible. The Bill will repeal a loophole which has been used to exploit public service broadcasters’ (PSB) content online without permission. Other areas of regulation need modernisation. Take the ‘Listed Events’ regime. Since the 1980s, successive Governments have sought to ensure that TV coverage of major sports events remains available to everyone. It has led to inspiring moments shared by us all. It’s now at risk as the criteria for which broadcasters qualify are unfit for the digital era.

Another example is the PSB prominence regime. This gives the PSBs priority in the ordering of TV channels. In a broadcast world, the regime meets audience expectations and supports investment in UK programmes. However, the regime is not fit for a digital world, leaving out of scope online services like BBC iPlayer. This month, the Government modernised the licence fee to cover BBC on-demand services, in response to changing consumption patterns. A similar response is now required for PSB prominence.

James Heath, Director of Policy and Charter, BBC

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