Advanced Television

Ofcom’s BBC content quotas

October 13, 2017

The BBC must broadcast more original UK programmes under new rules set out by broadcasting regulator Ofcom designed to ensure the broadcaster offers high-quality, distinctive programmes for its entire audience.

Viewers have told Ofcom that programmes made in the UK are important to them. Original content can also help the BBC meet duties under its new Charter, which include being distinctive, creative and reflecting the UK’s diverse communities.

So, from 2018, Ofcom reuires at least three quarters (75 per cent) of all programme hours on the BBC’s most popular TV channels to be original productions, commissioned by the BBC for UK audiences – reaching 90 per cent during ‘peak’ evening hours on BBC One and BBC Two.

There will be new requirements on Radio 1 and Radio 2 to play a broader range of music than commercial stations, and more music from new and emerging UK artists. The children’s channels CBBC and CBeebies must respectively show at least 400 and 100 hours of brand new, UK-commissioned programmes each year.

A BBC for the whole UK

The rules are part of a new operating licence for the BBC, the first since Ofcom became the BBC’s first independent, external regulator in April.

Ofcom wants all parts of the UK to be accurately reflected, and invested in, by the BBC. So the licence also requires more BBC content to be made across the UK and in the nations.

At least half of network hours on the BBC’s television channels will be made outside of London, with separate minimum quotas for each UK nation, broadly reflecting their population size. We are also launching a review of guidance on programmes made outside London, which aims to help ensure that such programming supports and strengthens production in the UK’s nations and regions.

Under its new licence, BBC One and BBC Two must also, between them, broadcast over 6,000 hours of programmes which are of specific interest to the nations and regions – 95 per cent of which must be made in the areas to which they relate.

And Ofcom will ensure that each of the UK’s nations and regions receives a fair share of the BBC’s spending on programmes. For the first time, the BBC will be required to spend broadly the same amount on programmes, per head, in all four of the UK’s Nations.

Raising the bar on performance

Most of the new requirements raise the bar for what the BBC is required to deliver, rather than simply carry over previous quotas. Ofcom has also improved and strengthened some conditions following feedback from its public consultation.

The new licence will:

  • Strengthen news and current affairs rules. Ofcom has increased quotas for news and current affairs on BBC One and Two, and set new conditions for radio. Radio 2 will be required, for the first time, to air at least three hours of news and current affairs in peak time per week, and Radio 1 to broadcast an extended news bulletin in peak time each weekday;
  • Safeguard vulnerable genres such as arts, music and religious programmes. Ofcom research shows these areas are seen as important for some audiences; but some are in decline. So Ofcom has confirmed higher requirements for BBC One and BBC Two to show programmes in these genres, including a new requirement to broadcast some during peak viewing times. It has also introduced a condition to safeguard comedy programmes on BBC One and BBC Two for the first time;
  • Support a wide range of valued genres. The Government’s BBC Agreement sets out genres that the BBC must support across its channels and services, such as drama, comedy, factual programmes and different types of music. Ofcom expects the BBC to support valued genres, particularly those that have seen declining investment. Ofcom also expects it to continue producing programmes on a broad range of established themes and interests – including among others, programmes covering politics, business, consumer issues, rural affairs, health, disability and social action; and
  • Support social action campaigns on BBC radio. Ofcom is requiring Radio 1 to offer a minimum number of major social action campaigns each year. Raising awareness of social issues among younger people and providing a platform on which to engage is one of the key ways Radio 1 can set itself apart from other radio stations.

BBC must improve diversity

All audiences should feel the BBC offers something for them. But Ofcom’s research shows that several groups feel that the BBC doesn’t sufficiently represent their interests or lives. Last month, Ofcom’s report on Diversity and equal opportunities in television revealed that many groups are also under-represented in the BBC’s workforce, and across the industry.

Ofcom expects the BBC, as the national broadcaster, to lead the way in addressing under-representation. So, the operating licence includes a range of new requirements to ensure, for the first time, the BBC is publicly accountable for achieving its workforce diversity targets. These include 15 per cent of staff to be from ethnic minority groups, and 50 per cent of all staff and leadership roles to be held by women by 2020.

For the first time, the BBC will be publicly accountable for achieving its workforce diversity targets. These include 15 per cent of staff to be from ethnic minority groups and 50 per cent of all staff and leadership roles to be held by women by 2020. Ofcom is requiring the BBC to report in detail to Ofcom each year on progress towards achieving these targets because high levels of transparency and accountability are essential to achieve positive change. The BBC must report data for its UK public services, which will exclude the World Service and its commercial services.


Under the licence, the BBC must also measure and report annually on its on-screen and on-air diversity. Ofcom will scrutinise the BBC’s performance to assess whether it is making sufficient progress in serving the UK’s diverse communities, and whether audiences are satisfied. And if audiences are dissatisfied, the BBC must explain itself and put in place measures on how it will improve.

The BBC will also be required to implement a new Ofcom-approved Commissioning Code of Practice for diversity, covering on-screen portrayal and casting, as well as workforce diversity. This will make diversity an explicit part of the BBC’s production and commissioning decisions. The Code will apply to all commissions – whether produced by the BBC in-house or externally, including BBC Studios.

Separately, Ofcom will carry out an in-depth review to understand how well different audiences are represented and portrayed on the BBC. As part of its analysis, Ofcom plans to examine on-screen diversity and portrayal in the BBC’s programmes, including in its popular peak time shows. The review will ask what viewers and listeners expect from the BBC and whether it adequately reflects the lives of all people across the whole of the UK, ranging from younger and older audiences to diverse communities.

Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom Content and Media Policy Director, said: “The BBC is the cornerstone of UK broadcasting. But we think it can do more to provide quality, distinctive programmes that reflect the interests and lives of people across the UK. Our rules will ensure the BBC focuses on original UK content, and invests in vital areas such as children’s programmes, music, arts and religion.”

Most of the new conditions on the BBC will come into effect on 1 January 2018, while those that relate to financial years (such as the quota for arts and music programmes on BBC One) will come into effect on 1 April 2018.

According to Ofcom, the operating licence will evolve over time. Ofcom expects the BBC to continue improving how it delivers against its remit. “We will also be ready to make changes in response to changing audience needs and tastes, revealed through our independent audience research, as well as developments in technology and broadcasting.” It concludes.

Responding to the ruling, a BBC spokesperson said: “These are a tough and challenging set of requirements which rightly demand a distinctive BBC which serves and represents all audiences throughout the whole UK. We will now get on with meeting these requirements and continuing to provide the world-class, creative BBC the public wants.”

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