Insights Government publishes White Paper on broadcasting

The Government says that “the headwinds facing our radio and television broadcasters are intensifying. Competition is increasing, audience habits and technology are changing constantly, and global giants are making their presence felt”.

Accordingly, the Government says, it wants to act to “support our system of public service broadcasting, using our new legislative freedoms to deliver a regulatory framework in the best interests of the UK”. In the Government’s view, it “must now deliver much needed reform”. This has resulted in this White Paper, entitled “Up next – the government’s vision for the broadcasting sector”.

Key actions from the White Paper include:

  • freezing the price of the TV licence at £159 for two years: after that, it would rise in line with inflation;
  • increasing the BBC’s commercial borrowing limit from £350 million to £750 million: to support the BBC in accessing capital and investing in ambitious growth plans;
  • pursuing a change of ownership of Channel 4: to ensure that Channel 4 can “continue to thrive and grow its impact” as part of the wider public service broadcasting ecology in the UK;
  • making the importance of programmes broadcast in the UK’s indigenous regional and minority languages clear in legislation: by including it in the new public service remit for television;
  • update S4C’s public service remit to include digital and online services and remove the current geographical broadcasting restrictions: to allow S4C to offer its content on a range of new platforms in the UK and beyond; legislate to support S4C and the BBC in moving away from the current framework requiring the BBC to provide S4C with a specific number of hours of programming, so that they can together agree an alternative arrangement that better suits the evolving broadcasting landscape and the changing way in which people access content;
  • replace the outdated set of fourteen overlapping “purposes” and “objectives” that public service broadcasters (PSBs) must contribute to with a new, shorter remit; this will be focused on the things that the PSBs are uniquely positioned to deliver; make it clearer that PSBs must contribute to this remit and will be accountable for the extent of their contributions;
  • give PSBs greater flexibility in how they deliver their remits: ensuring there are effective powers available should intervention be necessary; to make it easier for them to make their content available on a wider range of free-to-air platforms;
  • introduce a new prominence regime for on-demand television: to ensure public service content is both available and easy to find on designated TV platforms;
  • make changes to the local TV licensing regime to enable the extension of the local TV multiplex licence until 2034: subject to the same conditions that apply to the national digital terrestrial television (DTT) multiplexes; consult on options for the renewal or relicensing of individual local television services;
  • protect the UK’s terms of trade regime: updating it to reflect changes in technology and the way viewers are watching content from PSBs; consider whether there is a need to extend aspects of this regime to radio and audio producers that produce programming for the BBC;
  • bring larger TV-like video-on-demand providers that are not currently regulated in the UK but who target and profit from UK audiences under Ofcom jurisdiction: give Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a new Video-on-demand Code, similar to the Broadcasting Code, to ensure TV-like content, no matter how audiences choose to watch it, will be subject to similar standards; smaller, lower risk on-demand services in the UK will continue under existing rules; and
  • close the loophole that allows unregulated internet-delivered services to appear on TV sets in the UK by designating additional regulated electronic programme guides: to bring internet-delivered services listed in those guides within the scope of regulation by Ofcom.

The White Paper also sets out the Government’s vision for the future of broadcasting in the UK and how it intends to deliver it, including:

  • carrying out a review of the licence fee funding model ahead of the next Charter period;
  • consulting on embedding the importance of distinctively British content directly into the existing quota system: any legislative approach will allow for further consideration to ensure it is proportionate and achieves its aim of guaranteeing the continued production of content that could only have been made for British audiences;
  • considering making qualification for the listed events regime a benefit specific to UK PSBs: recognising that all current services that qualify are operated by PSBs; undertaking a review to look at whether the scope of the listed events regime should be extended to include digital rights;
  • conducting an evaluation of the contestable fund pilot: considering whether a contestable fund model would, in the longer term, provide additional value to the breadth and availability of high-quality UK produced public service content, which might better meet audience needs;
  • considering whether to introduce a revenue cap for “qualifying independent” producer status: to ensure that the status remains an effective lever in promoting the growth of the sector;
  • continuing to support the UK creative industries through creative sector tax reliefs: recent research demonstrates their impact, with every £1 of High-end TV Tax Relief delivering returns of £6.44;
  • consulting in early 2023 on new proposals to champion the community radio sector: where necessary, bringing forward changes to licensing requirements through amendments to the Community Radio Order 2004; legislating to give effect to the conclusions of the 2017 consultation on radio deregulation;
  • exploring ways to support UK broadcasters through possible changes in the wider advertising ecosystem: through the Online Advertising Programme, consider how to create a more level playing field between broadcast and online advertising, including on the issue of platform liability, to improve accountability and transparency;
  • establishing a new, pro-competition regime in digital markets: to complement the existing competition regime;
  • enabling the long-term renewal of DTT multiplex licences through to 2034: Ofcom to continue to track changes to DTT viewing and to undertake an early review on market changes that may affect the future of content distribution before the end of 2025; and
  • engaging further with the radio industry: to gain a deeper understanding of the policies and practices of the smart speaker platforms.

In the Government’s view, this “ambitious policy programme” is “essential” for the UK to “continue to benefit from a vibrant and successful broadcasting ecosystem”. To read the White Paper in full, click here.