The Communications and Digital Committee of UK parliament’s upper chamber the House of Lords has warned that public service broadcasters (PSBs) need to be better supported to ensure that they can continue to produce high-quality drama and documentaries which reflect and examine UK culture. In return, the broadcasters need to adapt to ensure that they serve and reflect all audiences.
The committee concludes in its report – Public service broadcasting: as vital as ever – that public service broadcasting remains essential to the UK media and losing it would leave UK society and democracy worse off. PSBs face unprecedented competition from Netflix, Amazon Prime and other subscription video on demand services (SVoDs) whose production budgets often dwarf those of PSBs.
By contrast with SVoDs, the report highlights that PSBs are failing to appeal to certain groups, including 16–34-year-olds. Younger generations are not growing up with PSBs as previous generations did, which risks undermining support for the licence fee. The committee also heard concerning evidence the PSBs are failing to appeal to BAME viewers and that they were not as successful as SVoDs in championing BAME representation behind the camera and in the creative process, especially at the BBC.
The committee raise further concerns about the integrity of the licence fee as the guarantor of the BBC’s financial independence. It has been undermined by a succession of settlements which were carried out behind closed doors. The BBC should not have been offered, or accepted, responsibility for over-75s’ licences. A new, independent and transparent process for setting the licence fee is necessary. The report recommends the establishment of a new body called the BBC Funding Commission to help set the licence fee.
The committee believe that PSBs are as vital as ever and make recommendations to ensure they can thrive in the face of competition from SVoDs. These include:
“For many people, especially young people, watching TV in real-time is now the exception rather than the norm,” noted Chairman of the Committee, Lord Gilbert of Panteg. “While the arrival of SVoDs has created exciting opportunities for the creative sector and for audiences, particularly in drama, we are concerned by the unpredictability of future developments. PSBs provide a stable investment platform for a diverse range of content, made for UK audiences, and freely available on a reliable over the air platform.”
“At a time of polarisation, public service broadcasters play a role in unifying the country through shared experiences. Our recommendations will ensure that public service broadcasters are able to continue to serve us and afford to make world-class programmes. If we fail to support our public service broadcasters, audiences would miss them when they’re gone.”