Culture, Media and Sport Committee

15 November 2007, Session 2007-08


CONTESTABLE FUND SHOULD BE SET UP TO SUPPORT PUBLIC SERVICE CONTENT, SAYS COMMITTEE

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee today publishes its First Report in Session 2007-08, Public Service Content (HC 36).

The Committee concludes that the prospects for public service content in the digital age are generally healthy, noting that “the market currently provides a wealth of content exhibiting public service purposes and characteristics” and that “the market is likely to continue to provide the content that consumers want and to provide much of the content that is considered to be socially valuable”.

The Committee believes that the Government and Ofcom should undertake a detailed, robust analysis of the amount of public service content they view to be necessary in the digital age and assess where, if anywhere, there is likely to be a shortfall. The Committee notes that certain programming genres are coming under pressure and that this is likely to increase as the UK approaches digital switchover. In relation to children’s programming, the Committee concludes that “it is important that there remains a significant amount of UK produced children’s programming on commercial channels as well as the BBC” but notes that “financial pressure […] in part due to the Government and Ofcom’s interventions which will restrict advertising revenue for children’s programming, creates uncertainty about the level of UK produced children’s content that will be attained in future”. In relation to regional programming, the Committee concludes that “content specific to the nations and regions, especially news programming, may come under pressure in future”.

The Committee believes that “public funding should be made available beyond the BBC on a contestable basis, to sustain plurality and to bring the benefits of competition to the provision of public service content that the market would not provide”. The Committee believes that “the most appropriate source of public funds for public service content is either from the licence fee of from general taxation”. The Committee, however, states that “we do not believe that that the overall cost to the public should be allowed to increase”.

Given the forecasts that Channel 4 is likely to face financial difficulties in the medium term, the Committee believes that Channel 4 should also be able to bid, on a contestable basis, for public funding in order to make specific public service programmes. However, the Committee believes that “Channel 4’s remit is too loosely defined” and that its remit should be more tightly tied to the provision of content that the market would be unlikely to provide.

The Committee also concludes that a huge amount of public service content is currently available on new media and that “there is clearly no threat to the production and distribution of public service content on new media platforms”. Given this, the Committee believes there is “no need for further intervention to support public service content on new media” and in particular, “the creation of a new public service publisher, as currently envisaged by Ofcom, is unnecessary”.

Committee Chairman John Whittingdale commented:

“While the BBC will continue to be the major supplier of public service content into the future, it is clear that the market will deliver an increasing amount without Government intervention. However, in some specific areas such as UK produced children’s programming and regional programming, there is a danger that without intervention the BBC will be left as the sole provider. This would be unhealthy and therefore, to ensure plurality, we believe that public funding should be made available on a contestable basis in specifically defined areas.”