Ofcom, the new British supra-regulator for broadcast, telecoms and online media which takes up the reins of power on December 29, plans a comprehensive review of the nation's public service broadcasting needs and the extent to which they are presently met.

The review is led by Ofcom senior partner Ed Richards, erstwhile media advisor to the prime minister and former head of strategy at the BBC. It is hyped as "the most extensive study into the nature and delivery of public service broadcasting yet undertaken in the UK".

The watchdog will conduct industry and public soundings, the latter among six thousand households. It will also enquire into the needs of specific social and ethnic groups and whether they are adequately met by the status quo.

In addition there will also be a series of seminars across the UK encouraging viewers to attend and express their views - which can also be registered via Ofcom's website.

Says Richards: "We want to place viewers and programmes at the heart of the review. We will consult widely, both formally and informally … We know through existing research that people have strong opinions about what they think is good television. Our review aims to establish a clear view of what public service television is, and how it is best delivered, both today and in the future."

In an attempt to determine the true cost and value of public service programming, broadcasters will be required to supply data covering the last five years. Among the details required are costs, revenues and volumes of different programmes, the expenditure associated with each channel and how well it contributes to fulfilling the public service requirements set out in the recently implemented Communications Act.

Some see the review as sweaty palms time for the BBC, currently under siege both by commercial rivals such as News Corporation and axe-grinders from both sides of the political divide.

With the BBC's charter due for renewal in 2006, Ofcom's findings are certain to be channelled into the government's reappraisal of the state-owned broadcaster's role. Many within (and without) the BBC fear this process could provide an opportunity for settling old political scores.

Ofcom supersedes and melds the respective functions of five former regulatory organizations: the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, the Office of Telecommunications, the Radio Authority and the Radio Communications Agency. Its remit does not extend to press and billboard advertising which remains the responsibility of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff