UK Government Targets “Golden Age of British TV” with PSB Reforms

Tim Cross 28 April, 2022 

The UK government has announced it is working on a broad set of broadcasting reforms, which it says are designed to better protect UK public service broadcasters (PSBs) and extend more strict content rules to on-demand platforms.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says that plans outlined in a new white paper, published today, will help PSBs develop talent, drive growth in creative industries, and create distinctive British content. The DCMS hopes that these changes will spark a new ‘golden age’ for British TV.

Flexibility in, Channel 4 out

The white paper outlines and fleshes out a number of reforms which have already been announced or alluded to, each of which the DCMS believes will help PSBs remain competitive.

One of these reforms will be to make PSB’s legal obligations more flexible, and suitable for the digital age. Specifically the government will simplify the set of laws and regulations which apply to PSBS, which will include a repeal of the ‘purposes’ and ‘objectives’ which PSBs have been subject to since 2003.

This will be replaced by a new remit, set out in law, requiring PSBs to create content which represents all parts of the UK, supports independent producers, and is “democratically impactful”.

Existing mandates to produce certain amounts of content on specific genres will also be changed. Currently, content which only airs on a broadcaster’s digital platforms doesn’t count towards these quotas – that will change under the new remit.

This revised remit is packaged together with a number of other measures. These include laws to secure PSBs’ prominence on CTV platforms, stricter regulation of video on-demand (VOD) services, and reforms to the listed events regime, which gives PSBs first access to events which are of national interest. The privatisation of Channel 4 is also included, though plenty would argue this runs counter to the stated objective of protecting British broadcasting. The DCMS has however announced that Channel 4 will no longer be restricted from producing and selling its own content – a move perhaps designed to make it more attractive to potential buyers.

A helping hand

The DCMS’s announcement set the new reforms against the backdrop of falling linear viewing for PSBs. The department believes that these rule changes will be significant in helping British broadcasters remain competitive, while also meeting their PSB requirements.

And indeed several of the measures, including PSB prominence on CTV services and regulation of the VOD players, are things which broadcasters have been asking for for a while.

“Many of [the government’s] proposals – notably reform to prominence and inclusion rules, a more flexible approach to remits, and changes to the listed events regime – look very sensible,” said ITV in a statement.

But given the government’s commitment to privatising Channel 4, which many believe will harm the British TV landscape, there will be scepticism about the extent to which these proposals will be beneficial.

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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