Carolyn McCall, chief executive of UK commercial public service broadcaster (PSB) ITV, says the nation’s PSBs (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) urgently need a modern framework that recognises a seismic shift in broadcasting.
Writing a comment piece in the Daily Telegraph, McCall notes that the UK public service broadcasters have stepped up to serve everyone during the most unsettling crisis ever experienced. “They have provided free, reliable and universally available news, entertainment, information and companionship. They have provided an important counterweight against a welter of misinformation and fake news,” she suggests.
“ITV is proud to have continued to inform and entertain throughout this period across our six television channels. We have screened 10 hours of live broadcast every weekday, as well as increased free-to-view content on ITV Hub,” she advises.
“Most programming of this sort is made by the public service broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, channels 4 and 5 and the national broadcasters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is under serious threat,” she warns.
“The regulatory framework for the PSBs was set out in 2003 – before Facebook, YouTube and Netflix were launched. There was no streaming. This needs to be updated for the new digital world urgently,” she asserts.
“The Competition and Markets Authority has just highlighted the extraordinary market power of Facebook and Google and the damage that has done to newspapers in this country. It would be a terrible mistake to stand back and risk that happening to British television too,” she declares.
According to McCall, some might think the notion of public service broadcasting is an analogue relic in a digital age. “But the job of making programmes with a public purpose, available to everyone, is as essential now and for the future as it has been in the past,” she contends. “The £2.6 billion [€2.9bn] annual programme spend by PSBs allows real, meaningful investment in talent and production across the whole country, not just in London and the South East,” she says.
“ITV creates unique content that reflects the UK in all its geographic and social diversity. We take our social purpose very seriously, using the scale of our audience to create positive change in areas such as mental and physical health. And we produce those unique unifying national moments in sometimes fractured and fractious times. Streaming services don’t bring the nation together in that way. ITV delivers 95 per cent of all programmes on commercial television that attracts audiences of more than five million,” she advises.
“All this is achieved by harnessing ITV’s public reach to a clear purpose. We create distinctively British shows that reflect and shape the world we live in and enhance our country’s soft power,” she adds.
“But for future generations of viewers to continue to enjoy these benefits, the way the broadcasting sector is currently regulated needs to be brought up to date,” she states.
Fundamentally we need the right for the products and services of public service broadcasters to be included on television platforms in the digital, online, on-demand era,” she avers.
“Second, we must ensure public service programming maintains its prominence on all significant devices used to access television. The danger otherwise is that UK audiences will be pushed towards content determined by mega money deals between a small number of global platforms and content providers and the global technology giants,” she cautions.
“Third, we must ensure that PSBs receive fair value from global television platforms for their investment in content. And finally, we need an updated compact for PSBs which ensures that the benefits continue to match the cost of delivering our public service obligations. Perhaps the greatest benefit of public service broadcasting is the contribution it makes to the health of our democracy,” she suggests. “It provides a gold standard of trusted national and local journalism amid the anarchy of fake news.”
“We live in a world of change – and ITV has embraced that change. Our business today is unrecognisable from the ITV of 2003, or inEvidence session: The future of Public Service Broadcastingdeed 2013. We have a clear vision and investment plan to be a digitally led, 21st century media and entertainment company that is proudly British with a strong global footprint,” she says.
“The future of our PSBs can encompass all the benefits British consumers enjoy today – economic, social and democratic. But we can only do that with a fair and modern policy and regulatory framework that recognises the seismic shift in our industry,” she concludes.
McCall’s comments come on the eve of an appearance at an evidence session on ‘The future of Public Service Broadcasting’ before the UK parliament’s House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, where MPs will hear on how the broadcaster has responded to the Covid-19 crisis, examining measures ITV has taken to protect itself financially, following dramatic falls in advertising revenue; the impacts of the crisis on the production of content, and the safe return to production. The Committee will also discuss the organisation’s commitment to diversity and representation, both on and off screen.
ITV will offer its perspective on the inquiry’s wider remit examining the societal role of PSBs, their funding, content, and regulation against a backdrop of increased competition from digital, subscription and streaming services.