UK: Public Service Broadcasting In The UK: Ofcom's Third Review

Last Updated: 8 July 2015
Article by Stephen Edwards and Samantha Daly

Ofcom published its third review of public service television broadcasting on Wednesday, 2 July. Ofcom is required to review the performance of public service broadcasters periodically. Its last review was published in 2009. This third review focusses on the opportunities and threats arising from the growth in internet use.

The review looks at the BBC, ITV, STV, UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C. It examines how well they have been fulfilling their public service broadcasting (PSB) purpose of providing television programmes dealing with a wide range of subjects, of a high standard and catering for as many different audiences as possible. It also considers options for maintaining and strengthening the current system.

Current delivery The review found a high level of audience satisfaction: 79% of viewers believe PSB is delivering on its purpose. Over half of all television viewing is to the main PSB channels, rising to 70% if all the PSB channels are included. PSB accounts for 95% of all television news viewing.

In 2013, the PSBs invested just over £2bn in new UK programmes (excluding sports content), compared to around £350m from non-PSBs However, the total level of investment in new UK-originated content has fallen by over £400m in real terms since 2008. The review highlights drama as a particular area of concern: investment has dropped by 44% since 2008. There has also been a 41% decline in the amount of new UK drama being shown on the PSB channels.

Immediate issues The review identified a number of immediate issues:

  • Provision of news for young people – their viewing hours for TV news have dropped by 29%
  • Content tailored to the UK nations and their regions – there is a mismatch between public expectations and how PSB is delivering in practice
  • Diversity and representation – over half of viewers interviewed from black ethnic groups felt under-represented and unfairly portrayed in PSB programmes. Around half of disabled viewers felt under-represented. Half of lesbian, gay and bisexual people viewers thought that they were under-represented, although only 16% felt they were negatively portrayed. 21% of viewers in Scotland and 26% of viewers in Northern Ireland felt they were negatively portrayed
  • Religious programming – the review notes that "provision has all but ceased of religion and ethics" at a time when "matters of religious belief are prominent in public debate"
  • Children's programming – spending has fallen by £15m and there is very limited provision of non-animation programming beyond the BBC
  • Music, arts and formal education – PSB provision has significantly reduced since the removal of specific quotas in 2003

Independent production Ofcom considers that the consolidation that has been occurring in the independent production sector could bring benefits as well as risks. While overseas investors might be willing to provide greater levels of risk capital to fund PSB commissions, consolidation could put new entrants and small and medium-sized enterprises at risk. The full effect of the acquisition of UK broadcasters and production companies by international companies (six of the top seven UK producers are now owned by large foreign media companies) is not yet clear. Ofcom will keep this area under close review.

Key trends Ofcom identified a number of key trends that will shape the PSB landscape over the next five to 10 years:

  • Changing technologies and models of distribution – superfast broadband availability will rise to 95% by 2017, with the potential for a broadband universal service obligation that could allow people to stream HD channels
  • Changing user interfaces driving new consumption habits – a move towards search and recommendation models built around personal viewing data
  • New international players – streaming and download providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime who are increasingly investing in content
  • New platforms – it may be increasingly difficult for PSBs to maintain current large audiences in the face of competition from global online platforms

It also identified trends among younger people which may indicate future patterns of consumption:

  • Devices – 90% of younger consumers own a smartphone and they are most likely to say they would miss their mobile phone more than any other device
  • New viewing patterns on VoD services – young adults are more likely to have an on-demand subscription in their home and to want variety and a mix of global, particularly US, content
  • Growth in the use of short-form video (such as on YouTube)
  • A shift towards non-linear services

Threats and opportunities The review identifies growth in online and on-demand viewing, especially among younger people: only 50% of 16–24 years olds' viewing is through live TV. Young people's behaviour may be an early indication of a more substantial shift across all age groups to on-demand and online viewing.

The implications of further audience fragmentation would be decreasing advertising revenues, increasing distribution costs and potentially decreasing reach, impact and availability of PSB content. The review warns that the current challenges to the funding of PSB content may increase if current market dynamics accelerate.

While in recent years broadcasters have made savings through reducing programme-making costs and changing the types of programmes they make, the review warns that they may not be able to repeat this in future and could face difficult programming decisions. To avoid this, the review says that PSBs will need to adapt to maximise commercial revenues and efficiencies.

However, it also says that the strength of the PSBs' brands, combined with their reach and impact, means they are in a good position to take advantage of changing viewer habits. They will, though, need to evolve as online viewing increases.

Options for maintenance and strengthening of PSB PSB is currently supported by benefits including access to digital TV spectrum, prominence on electronic programmes guides and the licence fee for the BBC. The review questions whether such benefits will remain effective in the internet age.

As online and on-demand viewing increases, rules guaranteeing access to PSB content and PSB prominence on linear TV are likely to need reforming to match changes in technology. The PSBs will need protection to ensure that their channels are widely available and easily discoverable, but should also be required to provide their services to all major devices and platforms. The review says that all the PSB channels' catch-up players should benefit from prominence and access to all major platforms.

Ofcom suggests that a more flexible model might be required to maximise Channel 4 Corporation's (C4C) potential. Consideration should be given to updating its framework to meet the needs of younger audiences, perhaps by allowing it to deliver some of its PSB obligations across all of its channels and services, rather than just through the Channel 4 service.

Although the review does not undertake any detailed analysis of the BBC, saying this is a matter for the Charter Review process, it does mention the extension of the licence fee so that catch-up users also pay as a potential positive development. This extension has now actually been agreed as part of the BBC's funding deal with the government.

Ofcom's conclusion on the 'retransmission fees' debate – some PSBs want pay subscription television platforms to pay to carry their channels – is rather negative. While recognising the additional funding it could bring, it warns that resolving disagreements would likely require significant regulation. It also points out that there is no guarantee that, in the case of ITV and Channel 5, all such fees would be spent on public service programmes.

Ofcom's response to suggestions on the introduction (or reintroduction) of quotas to address issues of under-provision in certain areas is also negative, as it believes this would likely come at the expense of investment in other forms of content.

The review raises the following questions to be considered in any update of the current rules:

  • Are the 'must offer' and 'must carry' regimes still fit for purpose given changing technologies?
  • Do the PSBs need protection in relation to carriage arrangements for services carried over the internet of the kind they have for carriage over broadcast networks?
  • Can the rules be designed to capture significant platforms only, given the likely future proliferation of platforms?

Finally, the review also raises some more radical options for increasing funding to the PSB system, if the need for intervention becomes more urgent:

  • Administered incentive pricing for spectrum
  • Review of the restrictions on advertising minutage on PSB channels
  • Deregulation of commercial references
  • Contestable funding
  • Levies on the revenues of pay-TV or distribution platforms, and copyright regimes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions