All Change for British TV Sector, Media Experts Prophesy

25 November 2002

The future is grim for Britain’s two largest ad-funded television stations. At least, so says a panel of industry experts.

Assembled by Bournemouth Media School, the Future Reflections report polled a number of leading figures from media firms, agencies and the government as to how they saw the nation’s TV sector developing over the next ten years.

Gazing into its crystal ball, the panel constructed four scenarios for the industry, detailing the implications for commercial broadcasters ITV and Channel 4, and also for the publicly funded BBC.

State-owned C4, says the report, must fundamentally change. In two of the forecasts, it is privatised and sold off to a global media firm, while in a third it abandons advertising and takes a share of the licence fee that currently funds the BBC.

A more imaginative fourth scenario sees the network withdrawing from TV altogether and broadcasting public-sector content via broadband using a government grant.

C4 took such speculation with a healthy dose of salt. “The media industry doesn't have a particularly good track record with predicting the future,” it said. “We are absolutely confident that we do have a future in our current form.”

The report also predicts a tough decade for leading commercial network ITV.

In only one of the scenarios does it survive in its current form, and that depends on an extended recession, slow take-up of digital TV and a U-turn by the government on plans to allow US firms to buy it. Having survived in this way, ITV would then have to battle against fierce competition from current minnow Channel 5.

Two forecasts involve tumbling ad revenues at ITV following a rapid conversion to digital, forcing the network to rely on sponsorship, e-commerce and ad-funded content. The fourth scenario envisages a foreign media group taking over the broadcaster, along with every other major commercial TV firm.

The BBC escapes relatively lightly, surviving with its licence fee in three of the forecasts. An eyebrow-raising fourth prediction sees the Corporation abandon TV by 2012 to focus on radio and the web.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff