UK Broadcast Watchdog Unveils Public Service Ideas

04 October 2004

The UK's TV regulator Ofcom is proposing a major shake-up of public service broadcasting (PSB) for the digital age.

In a move designed to prevent domination of the sector by the state-funded BBC, Ofcom envisages the setting up of a Public Service Publisher (PSP), which could be run by one of the other terrestrial broadcasters, ITV, Channel 4, Five or, indeed, a new provider. The BBC would continue to operate outside the PSP framework.

The PSP would commission and distribute programming through other distribution channels such as broadband and networked personal video recorders, as well as television.

Ofcom proposes funding of about £300m ($541m, €435m) annually to come from increased taxes, a higher licence fee, which currently bankrolls the BBC, and a tax on broadcasters' revenues.

The proposal, which appears in the regulator's latest review of PSB, seems to close the door on Channel 4's hopes of gaining a slice of the BBC's licence fee to provide public service programming.

Ofcom also rejects the other strongly lobbied idea of a contestable fund whereby terrestrial broadcasters would pitch public service ideas and 'win' the funds to make the shows.

The report says: "To refresh PSB for the digital age and to ensure a continued plurality of provision, we believe that there is a need for a new publicly funded service.

"Just as Channel 4, in its early years, had guaranteed funding and a remit to pursue public purposes with innovative ideas, we believe a new PSP could be created with similar ambitions for the digital age."

The BBC's response is measured: "Ofcom's proposed options for ensuring this plurality in the long term inevitably raises complex questions, which we will engage with during their forthcoming consultation."

Data sourced from Brand Republic (UK); additional content by WARC staff