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UK Minister for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock has declared TV to have been one of the UK’s greatest success stories and vowed to support the industry as it addresses a number of challenges, in particular the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Delivering a Keynote address at the RTS London Conference – his first to the broadcast sector since being appointed to the post in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet reshuffle – Hancock told delegates that in Government we know that you’re exceptionally good at what you do. “Throughout its history, TV has been one of the UK’s greatest success stories. In recent years it has grown at twice the rate of the rest of our economy, and annually generates over £13 billion in revenue. Of that, the growing independent production sector now contributes £3 billion a year,” he noted.
He described British TV executives and their programmes as “among our most powerful cultural ambassadors” but recognised this is also a time of great change. “Digital technology is revolutionising viewing habits. And it is primarily these challenges – and these opportunities – I want to talk about today,” he said.
Noting a range of findings which reflected changing viewing habits, he admitted that these figures may sound unsettling – disruptive to the way the industry had always worked. “But let’s bear in mind too that some of our greatest, most creative TV shows were made when the medium was relatively young. Series like Monty Python or the plays of Dennis Potter were able to experiment so freely, so successfully, because no one was yet clear what the rules were. Some of those brilliant, innovative shows, like Doctor Who and Coronation Street, are still with us today so it’s easy to forget just how radical they once were.”
According to Hancock, the exciting thing about now is: the toys are new again. “The rules are being rewritten. This can and should be another Golden Age of creativity. And the Government will support you in making it so,” he confirmed.
Hancock set out three core priorities for all the creative industries, which he said were no less important in TV than the others. “The first is backing success,” noting new TV tax breaks and a new BBC Charter which he said by enhancing its distinctiveness, accountability, transparency and efficiency would make sure the BBC continued to thrive.
He also noted the UK’s “vibrant” multichannel sector delivering over 500 channels via free and pay platforms.
“The prestige of the UK as the number one broadcasting hub in Europe is something that I’m enormously proud of and which brings very significant benefits to the UK creative sector. I know many of you worry about the impact of Brexit. The EU referendum highlighted the need to bring this country together, and that can only be achieved by reaching out to – by directly addressing – all its constituent parts. You and your industry have that power. And your role in defining how we see ourselves as a nation – and how we are seen around the world – is more important than perhaps any other sector’s. Throughout her history Britain has succeeded best when we’ve been open, positive, engaged, and looking outwards, towards the whole world. You can help define Britain’s place in the world today, and bring the people of Britain along with us,” he told delegates.
“On the specifics, we absolutely get the importance of: the Country of Origin principle; continuation of UK content’s designation as European work; access to skilled labour; to funding and to the central importance of the broadcasting industry. And we are working on those things as we prepare to negotiate Britain’s exit,” he confirmed. “We want to celebrate and strengthen our pre-eminent role in broadcasting as we move forward. UK success is here to stay. You can take it from me that UK success is here to stay.”
His second principle, expanding access, he describes as a central objective of the Government that everyone, from every background, should have equal chance to succeed, equal chance to access arts and culture. “In TV, you are already bringing culture – high-brow, middle-brow, resolutely low-brow, it really doesn’t matter – into homes up and down the land.”
His third priority was to drive the opportunities of digital syntheses, suggesting that convergence had delivered exciting, disruptive new business models and programme formats such as the challenge of multiplatform media, saying he was “absolutely determined the UK’s digital infrastructure must-be world-leading. “We have substantially invested in our digital communications infrastructure – both for mobile and fixed connectivity – with three quarters of a billion pounds from central government. We are rolling out superfast broadband across as many homes and businesses as possible. We have already achieved 90 per cent coverage. We are on track to reach 95 per cent by the end of next year, and we are pushing fibre too. It will get easier and quicker, year on year, for people to access the brilliant shows you make. And digital needs content. That nexus between technology and culture is our future economy’s sweet spot, and it is at that nexus that your industry has always lived, and where it must continue to thrive. Yes there are challenges but there are huge opportunities to reach more people, to open more minds, embrace new technology to educate, excite and entertain like never before. That is a passion we share and in doing so I will be at your side,” he vowed.