All 10 entries tagged Public Service Broadcasting

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September 25, 2008

ITV Escaping Public Service Broadcasting Requirements

ITV Escaping Public Service Broadcasting Requirements

I wondered why shots of Michael Grade loomed large in some broadcast news footage of the end of the Labour Party conference. The very next day it is announced that OFCOM are allowing ITV to reduce its Public Service Broadcasting requirements with regard to regional news. Presumably Grade has been doing some heavy lobbying behind the scenes to get that position adopted by OFCOM. It has been a key part of his survival strategy for ITV (I still wouldn't want my pension fund to buy in though). The OFCOM PSB review has been published today is available here as a PDF.


Michael Grade 1

Michael Grade (presumably waxing lyrical about ITV Content!)



Commercial Broadcasting can't deliver anything but Junk  OFCOM seems to be saying

Of course OFCOM put it more politely than that but as the emphasised areas shows the content which actually makes broadcasting worthwhile doesn't attract the advertising / mass audiences required to gain that advertising:

Viewers have access to a wider range of content than ever before, on digital TV and
online. Multichannel broadcasters now make a significant contribution to public
service content, particularly in sport, entertainment, archive and acquired
programming, and in one case, news. But they provide very little original
programming in the genres under most pressure on commercial public service
channels – current affairs, nations and regions programming, challenging UK drama, UK scripted comedy, and UK drama and factual programming for children.
This is unlikely to change as provision on the commercial PSBs declines, because most multichannels do not reach the audiences required to justify large and risky
investments in these areas and will themselves face increasing economic pressure.


Despite the fact that Michael Grade puts himself about rabbiting on about content is king the sad reality is that for ITV to have any hope of becoming a license to print money again as it was in the past it does need to get rid of that embarrssing encumbrance of actually delivering any kind of service rather than lowest common denominator TV targeted at those who reject any form of challenging content.

In another posting there will be more analysis of the latest OFCOM consultation document about creating new models of Public Service Broadcasting (multicasting) for the digital era. Clearly with a serious economic downturn still deeepening and with much advertising migrating onto the internet any cost centres such as regional news which are relatively expensive to run and by definition have capped audiences are going to be cut back as far as possible.

However we still have to consider whether ITV has much to offer in a realm of fragmenting audiences where increasingly very few broadcast TV programmes are going to reach mass audiences measured in the millions. That is the obvious outcome of offering diversity, however the ITV model seems ill placed to offer genuine diversity.

Regional programming and therefore regional representation is under serious threat from this tendency within ITV. What OFCOM hasn't been discussing within it s remit is whehther there could be a much upgraded role for local and regional newspapers in providing aspects of public service multicasting. As broadband takes hold and as the push to get super high speed broadband across the country intensifies the delivery platfoms for multi-media journalism which is able to deliver local and regional news and information services.

Already my local newspaper The Coventry Evening Telegraph has a pretty good web presence and get as local as my local councillor (globally).  Why not let ITV drop its public broadcasting remit altogether increase the amount of money it pays for its broadcasting licence and put the proceeds into developing super-high speed fibre optic networks in the most remote parts of the country who will be most affected by ITV's forthcoming pusillanimous status. Let moron TV pay for creating the new information networks the country so badly needs.

The growth of multi-media journalism and the development of cheaper methods of recording uploading and editing means that local papers are increasingly becoming the multi-media content providers of choice through the process of convergence. Arguably it is they, rather than conventional TV, who can provide the cmpetition to the BBC which is already well on the way to being a multi-platform provider genuine local competition in terms of news and regional programming.

Possible Development Models for PSB

There are of course other areas which ITV wishes to withdraw from which can't be dealt with by changes in the existing local and regional mediascape such as current affairs. Once upon a time Granada TV used to deliver absolutely amazing current affairs programmes which often went much further than the BBC dared to in terms of challenging the positions of the government of the day on subjects such as Northern Ireland for example. Look what happened to Greg Dyke when the BBC challenged the government over its ridiculous adventurism into the Iraq War. The reality is that public service broadcasting is still too closely tied to the powers of the government of the day and the debate taking place around public service broadcasting needs to argue for more independence for the BBC on the grounds of cultural citizenship.

The OFCOM models will be discussed more fully in a later posting. For media investors the advice still remains the same get your money into Sky (if you can stomach Murdoch), Google or Branson. currently the ITV model seems to have little to recommend it especially as itsog:  target audience are the least likely to be keeping up with technological change, highly focused contextual advertising is where its at and ITV doesn't look as though it going to provide this. Director of th BBC Mark
Thompson at a speech to the Royal Television society on Friday 26th September laid down a challenge to the OFCOM models being proposed:

To me, the debate needs to become more ambitious, more imaginative and less defeatist. We need a solution that supports the vital creative and editorial role which Channel 4 plays in our system. But we shouldn't throw in the towel when it comes to ITV and Channel Five - both have a critical role to play in investment, in creative diversity and in public service delivery. The public wants all to remain in the family. And they don't want the stabilisation of any of the commercially funded public service broadcasters at the price of destabilising or weakening the BBC. (Mark Thompson Speech edited Guardian version)

In the meantime I will leave you with some of the thoughts of Stephen Fry from an extended essay on his blog. Hard to disagree with him really so get writing to OFCOM:
I genuinely cannot see that the nation would benefit from a diminution of any part of the BBC’s great whole. It should be as closely scrutinised as possible of course, value for money, due humility and all that, but to reduce its economies of scale, its artistic, social and national reach for misbegotten reasons of ideology or thrift would be a tragedy. We got here by an unusual route that stretches back to Reith. We have evolved extraordinarily, like our parliament and other institutions, such is the British way. (Stephen Fry Blog. The whole thing is worth a read)


Worrying Update

I have just discovered a news story on the BBC website which states that Andy Burnham the Culture Secretary wishes to speed up the OFCOM process which anyway has few outside of porfessional bodies contributing to it. Given that as reported he seems to wish to pre-empt the OFCOM findings one can only be even more suspicious of some insider dealing from Michael Grade to offload the ITV PSB committment:

The culture secretary also said the government would speed up the ongoing review of public service broadcasting.Ofcom is currently running a consultation, but Mr Burnham said that rather than wait for its recommendations in the New Year, the government would press ahead now with discussions about possible changes to policy.Among the proposals is a plan to share the BBC's licence fee revenue with other commercial broadcasters like ITV and Channel 4.Mr Burnham said: "All options are open at the moment, but it is important that we are all prepared to accept we have to make trade-offs." (BBC News story Friday 26th September 2008)



Webliography

ITV 'can cut' regional programmes. BBC 24 09 / 08 

ITV Demoted from the Financial Times Share Index of 100. (BBC Story)

OFCOM PSB Review Phase 2

Guardian report on 'leak' of OFCOM Phase  2 Document July 2008


Confidential Report on OFCOM Phase 2 with name witheld!


H of C Committee on Culture: Ofcom and PSB


Independent report from April 2008: Public service broadcasting must reform to survive, says watchdog




July 16, 2008

High–Speed Broadband coming to Britain from BT

High-Speed Broadband coming to Britain from BT


Introduction

Yesterday BT announced one of the most significant moves of its history and one of fundamental importance to the future of UK PLC which is its willingness to invest in Hi-speed broadband networks. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of this announcement as a hi-speed network is crucial for maintaining parity in the global marketplace. In ten years time any country which does not have the majority of its population accessing these networks will be severely diadvantaged for advanced economies will be highly dependent upon these networks.

The Current Situation

Only a few months ago I was reporting on the problems of taking the next step in the development of the UK as an important hub within the developing networked society. This centered around the issue that Britain currently lacked and had no plans for a high-speed broadband network. From a media and general economic perspective having a network like this is the essential next infrastructural step to keep UK PLC at the front of the pack. In a few years time countries that do not have a hi-speed broadband network will be economic laggards. From the perspective of the domestic consumer the introduction of high-speed broadband will enable households to download streamed moving images at High Definition (HD) levels of quality driving large flatscreens. This means that games, films, TV style programmes can al be accessed through computers and if necessary stored on domestic servers etc. Increasingly business is depending on the use of files such as these as well. Internal corporate communications and external marketing of moving images will be able to be downloaded from company servers. Imagine how useful that would be for travel companies or estate agents. Viewing the hotel you want to stay in or a house you are interested in viewing would be great for prospective clients and could cut down on work from the companies. From the perspective of media students who will be looking for media work there is likely to be lots more of this in the business sector in the future.


This Financial Times technology report gives the current realistic situation for UK download speeds which are currently slower than German & France! This FT report on the BT announcement has a useful video embedded.


BT to pump £1.5bn into broadband

Britian's future has just changed for the better with the announcement made yesterday from BT that they will invest around £1.5 billion into high-speed broadband networks:


The plans would bring 40% of homes in reach of an ultra-fast service by 2012. BT is also planning to put fibre-optic cable into about 1 million homes, making the service even faster for those customers. (BBC story 15 / 07/08)


The domestic bait is the promise of a fantastically diverse entertainments / work from home system:

The group's plans should enable homes to run so-called "multiple bandwidth-hungry applications" which would enable some family members to watch high definition movies while others were gaming or working on complex graphics projects. (ibid)



There is one major obstacle in the way and that is the current regulatory environment which is discouraging BT from investing in a system like this. To install it into homes would be an immensly expensive operation and BT currently has to provide a universal service down copper wires which can't carry much information compared with optic-fibre cables. Unless BT is allowed to charge realistic rates on its investment then of course it isn't going to do it:

A spokesman for the firm said BT hoped to discuss updating its current universal service obligation with the watchdog.Under current rules BT must provide a copper connection to all homes, however, the firm says this is out of date and unnecessary for updated services based on a fibre-optic connection.BT's rival Virgin Media already uses fibre-optic cables, which are faster than BT's copper lines, although the final connection to the home user is done with traditional coaxial cable. (ibid)


Digital Divide or Cultural Citizenship?

Of course different charging structures for different services will raise complaints from many quarters that universal equality of service will not be available with poorer families not being able to afford the high-speed services. This again opens up the dangers of a 'digital divide'. No government is going to be able to justify higher taxes to subsidise BT in installing entertainment lines to domestic properties. Rory Cellan Jones' blog offers some useful comments on some of the costings involved however we need to think bigger than this at the levels of regulation and what we demand and need to be active citizens in a digital future.

At this stage perhaps we need to reinvent the notion of public service 'broadcasting' into a notion of public service media access based upon the central concept of cultural citizenship. This would help the concept fit the digital age as currently the very term 'broadcasting' is rapidly becoming an anachronism.  Arguably there is a case for the so-called annual TV licence fee to be increased by say £10 pa with that amount ring-fenced for the ongoing installation of hi-speed optic fibre cables into domestic properties. This money would go to BT on the understanding that universal access was developed within a certain timeframe. This would ensure that in say fifteen years time there wasn't a huge inequality in terms of access for bad access will undoubtedly be educationally disadvantageous for the worst off.


Educational Infrastructure and Networked Society Futures

These likely developments also raises the issue of ensuring that educational institutions are guaranteed the highest possible quality links. Currently the exponential development of the world wide web in developing data heavy content means that many schools and colleges which at one time had connection speeds which were more than adequate are now lagging. The ever increasing need of students and staff to utilise YouTube and similar sites is giving IT  managers headaches throughout the educational system. New media specifications at A level for example are also demanding that student work is available online for moderation putting even more strain on currently overloaded dystems. At the strategic level government needs to be preparing educational institutions for a high-speed broadband world, otherwise the educational system which should be providing tomorrow's leaders for a fully developed networked society will be lagging.


changing the Regulatory Structures

It is important that all MPs are familairised with sober rather than hyed up notions of what the networked society might look like. I'm highly sceptical of the notion of Media Studies 2.0 and an assumption that independent and individual contribitions to networked society are developing into anything serious in economic terms rather than  the creation of cultural and social networks /communities are likely to be thin rather than thick. Nevertheless Ofcom needs to be persuaded that the changes in regulations that BT requires are largely put into place however there needs to be the 'but' of universal access. BT can quite justifiably argue that it simply isn't economic to deliver this. It is responsible to its shareholders many of which are pension funds with ordinary peple's money invested. It is safe to make the presumption that nationalisation and public subsidy isn't going to be the path taken therefore the licence fee linked to notions of cultural citizenship seems the best way forward. I notice that Ofcom already has a Citizenship and Convergence consultation paper published. It is important that readers start to interact with these initiatives as the future of digital citizenship within a networked society is a high-stakes issue.


Webliography

Times business online16th July 2008

Times business online 15th July 2008



July 11, 2008

Cultural Citizenship and the Importance of the Media

Cultural Citizenship and The Importance of the Media

Introduction

Citizenship is something which has been under development since at least the American Revolution. For a considerable period of time notions of citizenship were based upon concepts and a history written by T. H. Marshall however this model has proved to be unsatisfactory in many ways and new concepts such as cultural citizenship and green or ecological citizenship are now emerging in response to changing societies.


T. H. Marshall's Theory of Citizenship

T. H. Marshall wrote about the development of citiizenship in Europe. He argued that there were theree aspects of citizenship which had developed since the time of the French Revolution.

Civil Rights

In the first instance there was citizenship formed around civil and economic rights. These were comprised out of the rights to trade, property rights and rights to a fair trial. Marshall identifies these as laregly developing during the course of the 18th century.

Political Rights

These were significantly developed during the 19th century and comprised of the rights to free association and the right to vote in democratically held elections. These 'rights' were of course fought for hard and it should be remembered that even in the UK a full one person one vote system wasn't in operation until the mid 1970s as there had been a property vote in Northern Ireland for the Stormont regional form of government.

Social Citizenship

This was largely a 20th century development although Bismarck established the first steps towards the welfare state at the end of the 19th century.

The British welfare state founded in 1945 wished to eradicate the five great social evils of poverty, illness, homelessness, ignorance and lack of work.

  1. Social citenship has become rooted around these areas and in the UK institutions were established to deal with these issues:
  2. The National Health Service (NHS)
  3. A standardised public education system providing education for all up until 15 (later to become 16)
  4. The creation of a mass council housing and the eradication of slums
  5. A social insurance system which provided some income for those made unemployed and also one which provided a system of universal state provided pensions.


There are issues with T. H Marshall's approach. Certainly the developments in these areas of citizenship haven't been a smooth progression and were fought for hard politically.


Cultural Citizenship & The Media

Cultural citizenship deals with the aspects of life which create a sense of being and identity within an individual and groups of individuals. This sense of social being is what is decribed as social ontology. This symbolic aspect of society is very much related to citizenship and is culturally embedded:

notions of cultural citizenship point to the importance of the symbolic
dimension of community
. Cultural citizenship is concerned with ‘the degree of
self esteem accorded to his or her manner of self-realisation within a society’s
inherited cultural horizon’ (Honneth 1995:134).
(My emphasis. Stevenson N: What is Safe? Cultural Citizenship, Representation and Risk)

What is represented in all media forms is therefore an essential part of citizenship which through combining all aspects of citizenship means that every individual is embedded in a mutually constructed system of rights and responsibilities. A society progresses so the elements within a concept such as citizenship deepen and change.

The media is now so fundamental to creating and communicating ideas, representations and senses of communities both thick and thin and the institutions which themselves may be thick or thin. With the development of a variety of web based tools such as blogs which allow for anybody with access to a computer and the internet to publish the creation of a rich electronically based public space has now become a reality which can keep developing.  This can provide us with both material and symbolic needs in which physical needs (food & shelter) interact with and are a part of cultural and social needs expressed through the symbolic which is a crucial aspect of what  the beingness of humans is. Stevenson notes against much postmodernist thinking:

...that notions of cultural difference are not incompatible with with the more normative emphasis of a theory of human needs. (Stevenson 1995 p 197)

The social theorist Nancy Fraser has argued that cultural recognition in terms of identity and representation, whether that be by ethnicity, gender etc must be accompanied by wealth redistribution if it is to be a meaningful right. If people are poverty stricken then to have abstract rights of representation is largely meaningless.

Social theorists  are trying to arrive at a formulation which sees representation and the symbolic world as an important area for the development of individuals as citizens for the various aspects of media are the key platforms and opportunities for representation. The social aspects of citizenship such as education are tied into cultural citizenship information streams adn opportunities for interactive representation. This means that media content and control is far too important to the well-being of advanced societies to allow it to becoem commercialised.  Without a good media system people would lack, information, education and representation.

Stevenson (1995 p 198) for example has identified four different kinds of human need that have a relationship between culture and communication:

      • The need for knowledge about the operation of expert cultures
      • The need for an understanding of the desires, demands and need interpretations of others who are distant in time and space
      • The need to understand ourselves as a social community
      • The need for aesthetically and non-instrumentally defined cultural experiences

      It seems to me that theses are the fundamentals underlying a public service broadcasting system. Theses are the reasons why everybody who has any sense of citizenship must rally behind the BBC and its licence fee as the full digital age dawns. Any compromise inevitably betrays the weakest in society by throwing to the slick talking media dogs whatever platform they are pushing. Can we improve the BBC? Of course but lts do that from the strong base that has evolved so far.




      Webliography

      Oxford University Synopsis. History of Welfare State


      Political Culture Thick and Thin



      June 02, 2008

      Is Johnathan Ross Overpaid?

      Is Johnathan Ross Overpaid?


      Johnathan Ross



      This is an important issue for media students as well as license fee payers. It is quite clear that few people think that somebody like Jonathan Ross is worth £6 million per year which is greater than most British film Budgets!  I very much doubt that ITV would want to pay that much. What evidence is there that people are attracted to Johnathan Ross rather than some other presenter? 


      People are so incensed that the BBC Trust was forced to look into the matter. The PDF with the trust's findings is available here.

      I haven't read this yet but will comment more in depth in due course, however the reports I heard on Radio 4 this morning didn't convince me. It is precisely this kind of attitude pretending that there is a "market price" which has led to large numbers of overpaid executives in businesses. There has been a furore about this as shareholders are getting fed up with this. The fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister of this country gets a paltry sum by comparison yet the level of responsibility is incommensurable.  Look how many good scientists, doctors etc there are who are well paid by many standards but at least they make hugely important contributions to the long-term benefits of society, I don't think anybody could say that of Johnathan Ross. The levels of pay of the doctors, scientists etc are paltry by comparison with Ross and his ilk. This is an issue of people getting their priorities right.


      I may well be a strong supporter of the license fee but the BBC has to remain far more accountable. In an age of fragmenting audiences and the gradual demise of mass TV audiences as we know it this money could be far better invested elswhere and it should be!


      I strongly suggest writing to your MP as well as complaining to the BBC. The fact that the BBC Trust report was written by the sort of people who fundamentally support the discourse of "The Market" which has allowed top executive pay to get out of hand should make us very wary of the true independence of the report. I think a full open Parliamentary enquiry into this is what we should expect.


      Webliography


      BBC story on Johnathan Ross . June 2008

      BBC on BBC defence of Ross pay deal 2006

      Stage Blogs

      Independent on BBC Trust Review June 2007

      Guardian reports on MPs involved in Ross pay row July 2006

      This London report that ITV Exec attacks Ross pay deal


      May 08, 2008

      Freesat Launched May 2008 in UK

      Freesat Launched May 2008 in UK

      Thompson and Grade Freesat

      Thompson and Grade launch Freesat (Guardian image)



      Freesat was announced as early as September 2005 however its announcement of a launch in 2006 seems to have been a little premature.


      Freesat's real value to ITV and the BBC is that its satellite technology will allow them to screen many more channels than the 47 currently available on Freeview, the free-to-air digital terrestrial platform.
      Crucially, Freesat will also have much greater capacity for screening shows in HD. Analysts have compared the move to HD pictures with the transition from black and white to colour TV. (Daily Telegraph 05/05/08)



      Channel Five is expected to join Freesat in the near future, once programming rights issues had been resolved. For now the service will features BBC, ITV and Channel 4 networks. (Guardian)


      Murdoch on Murdoch (Times on Sky versus public service broadcasting)


      Freesat will allow consumers to get unlimited, as well as high-definition, digital television for a one-off payment, starting at £49.99, plus an £80 installation fee.
      The service will carry exclusive high-definition coverage of England’s home football games and FA Cup matches from next season — a plan that prompted immediate criticism from the satellite broadcaster Sky, which is 39.1 per cent owned by News Corporation, parent company of The Times.
      Freesat, which is backed by a £6 million marketing campaign, says that it will be better than the existing Freeview service because it will provide many more channels and cover almost the whole of the country. (Times article)



      Webliography


      BBC Video report on the launch of Freesat


      BBCs Mark Thompson upbeat as Freesat Begins


      2005: Free Satellite War begins 

      Digital  Spy article on Freesat


      March 09, 2008

      Should the TV License Fee be Topsliced?

      Should the TV License Fee be Topsliced?

      Can James Purnell, the culture secretary, really be serious when he talks, as he does, of top-slicing the BBC licence fee to spread the money among other broadcasters? Talking to him at last weekend's Fabian conference, he confirmed he was indeed. (Polly Toynbee)

      The problem with top-slicing – and the concept of the Public Service Publisher – is that identifying a particular section of any channel’s programming as its ‘public service output’ ghettoises some sectors and liberates others from public service obligations, a Faustian bargain which allows the popular to get really popular in exchange for keeping the good really good. On the other hand, it’s clear that a return to a universal public service remit is unrealistic. (David Edgar: London Review of Books)

      Andy Burnham UK Culture Secretary

      Andy Burnham made UK Culture Secretary Jan 2008. 

      An ex -Treasury clone 

      James Purnell Ex Culture Secretary

      James Purnell ex-culture Secretary and previously adviser to Blair 

      Stephen Carter, the former Ofcom chief executive, who originally put up the idea of top slicing the BBC's licence income and who is now Gordon Brown's chief stragetist and key fixer. (Nicholas Jones Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom)

      To complete this brief round up of the pusillanimous "New Labour" approach to commercialisation Nick Gosling reports on Purnell's choice of metaphor BBC as "Venture Capitalists" in case any visitors thought I am exaggerating: 

      "We want the licence fee to act as venture capital for creative talent and nowhere is this clearer than in the BBC's investment in training and research and development." Well it was April Fools Day, but the confusing comment of James Purnell MP, minister for creative industries and tourism did not amuse union delegates and academic specialists at a conference on the new BBC Charter organised by the TUC, Federation of Entertainment Unions and the CPPF. (Nick Gosling Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom)

      Under construction

      Introduction

      The debate about how to apportion the current and future so called TV Licence Fee is beginning to hot up. James Purnell has gone to be be replaced by another "New Labour" clone from the treasury Andy Burnham oddly only a couple of days after Polly Toynbee's original article.   One aspect of the debate is whether some of the licence fee should be awarded to commercial providers such as ITV / channel 4 who are meant to be providing some sort of public service broadcasting remit. Below I have searched some fora to see what the current state of debate in the digital public sphere is. Whilst this blog resolutely behind the BBC getting the full licence fee to provide the current levels and hopefully improved levels of service this doesn't mean for a moment that the BBC is above criticism. There is a separate debate to be had about how the BBC can be more in tune with its stakeholders and that must be carried on elsewhere. 

      It should be remembered that New Labour has at least two reasons why it would like to curb the power of the BBC. They ran cap in hand to Rupert Murdoch before the 1997 general election to reassure him that New Labour wouldn't be against his media empire. Murdoch remember controls Sky TV who are very keen to emasculate the BBC. A view seemingly supported by Raymond snoddy of the Independent: 

      The third bad idea, "top-slicing" of the licence fee, is far from dead, though it ought to be. Those with obvious self-interest, the commercial broadcasters who would like to get their hands on some of the BBC's money, will ensure it keeps running to the end. (Raymond Snoddy Independent: Monday, 21 January 2008)

      The second reason is that the BBC stood up to Blair regarding the Iraq war. It eventually cost Greg Dyke his job. If you want more information on these issues Greg Dyke's book which describes some of the manoeuvering's around media policy are very educative! It is probably sensible to take these issues into account when considering New Labour's attitude to the BBC. Remember had New Labour had its way the BBC would have been severely curtailed in the digital world if Ondigital a fine commercial flop hadn't opened the door to Freeview. This fine effort from the "prestige" end of the Murdoch portfolio The Times had this to say in support of Burnham about "Topslicing", naturally it is totally unbiased and Mr. Murdoch didn't tell Hames to say this:

      The challenge for Mr Burnham is to make it plain that he will be as radical as his predecessor. It is absolutely absurd that a modern party of the centre Left can accept what is effectively a poll tax on television sets, or acquiesce in the fantasy that the BBC is uniquely capable of creating material of the highest calibre. (Tim Hames Times online Jan 28th 2008)

      Given that the New Labour clones including Tessa Jowell were hell bent on creating the UK as a Casino "Culture" having entirely failed to created any significant new manufacturing base in the North of England we can presumably expect the discourse of 'cultural industries'  to dominate the thinking about the BBC and carry on dumbing down culture. for those who think that is a an "elitist", "middle class" comment when it came to the Labour party making cutbacks  in culture a few years ago in Coventry including the music school and the Belgrade Theatre Theatre in Education it was Trade Unionists from factories like Rolls Royce who were the most ardent in attempting to defend a proud cultural heritage. 

      This article from the Evening Standard is especially revealing as it shows the cosy cabalism which operates behind the myth of "transparency". The fact of the matter is there is heavy pressure on the Government and Ofcom to curtail the BBC, becuase unhampered by rabid commercialism it could be twice the force in the global media world than it is now:

      But what are we to make of the relationship between Purnell and two very influential figures: Stephen Carter, the Prime Minister's strategy chief and principal adviser, who was previously chief executive of media regulator Ofcom, and Ed Richards, who succeed Carter at Ofcom and was previously a media adviser to Tony Blair. Richards even helped to draft the Communications Act, which Ofcom was set up to enforce. (Roy Greenslade Evening Standard 23/01/08)

      Manchester Super Casino Plan

      "Welcome to the Desert of the Real" Morpheus in the Matrix.

      While this so-called "Supercasino" in Manchester was eventually stopped can anybody really trust anything that "New Labour" (?) say or do? It is clear they want to marketise culture as much as possible. Goobye Art and Quality..... Hello cultural industries. 

      Comments From the Digital Public Sphere

      I have kept the spelling of the original comments (even worse than mine on some occasions). 

      Difficult to disagree with the comments from the Guardian Organgrinder blog below:

      Top-slicing comeback is deeply depressing: Maggie Brown Media Guardian

      Top-slicing - or giving a portion of the licence fee to broadcasters other than the BBC in return for public service content - is not the answer to television's problems. An alternative that does not entail undermining the BBC must be found

      A politically insightful and thoughtful comment about continuing rightwing pressure to destroy the BBC. One might further  wish to enquire how far Murdoch Corporation etc are keen to see this kind of pressure:

      It may be a paradox to rightwingers keen to inhabit their own parallel universe, but the digital age strengthens the case for the BBC.

      We have already seen the crass dumbing down of commercial television since the advent of satellite and digital broadcasting. The only thing saving standards is the bulwark of the BBC and the fair, affordable and judicious TV licence.

      The paranoia-racked Right thinks it works against their bizarre worldview, and set up loads of "blogs" in ever more desperate attempts to expose bias. Their predictable failure is the BBC's triumph. Their descent into obsessive madness proves that a public broadcaster is more relevant today than it ever was. It prevents the weird Right spewing its claptrap onto the airwaves without challenge (as happens on radio talkshows in the US). I'd pay treble to keep such a service.

      To show how paranoid rightwingers are about the BBC, the governor Mark Thompson, posted a thoughtful blog on the BBC news site a week ago exploring issues surrpunding trust in the media (foolishly corroded in all sectors of television by cretinous "phone-ins"). Despite the clear evidence he posted that the BBC still enjoys far more trust than most other institutions, the comments below his piece are riddled with conservatives bleating about alleged bias (yet again again without any proof) and warning of some mythical revolt in viewer land!

      Do I think the Guardian/Telegraph/Google/ Yahoo!/Times/Sky/Economist/TenAlps/Uncle Tom Cobbleigh should be allowed to pitch instead of just Channel 4 and ITV? Of course.

      Do I think the licence fee should be top-sliced? No.

      Why not? Because I have never believed in the pure economist theory that all markets are inevitably improved by competition. What has made BBC drama better is not necessarily public service competition here, but commercially-funded competition from the US. In areas where the BBC has enjoyed near monopoly positions - national speech radio, classical music production, non-commercial childrens' websites, worldwide online news, - one could argue that it has consistently produced better programmes than in the highly competetive areas - or at least programmes with greater public purpose. (Guardian Organgrinder comments)

      From Polly Toynbee comments box the international perspective: 

      If/when you live abroad (I live in Hong Kong) you realise that British people don't know they are born with regards to the BBC.
      For 2 quid fifty pence a week per household, it is the best value entertainment in the world. It should be cherished. Imagine radio 4 with adverts, the BBC website directing you to things to buy, etc.
      If I were Bill Gates, I would buy the BBC and keep it as it is to benefit the world. It is that good.

      All these people talking up the demise of the BBC. Leave it alone. Out here in bangladesh if it weren't for the world service I'd have gone nuts by now. It still works and it still has great relevance. If it is getting weaker that only means that we need to revitalise it.

      In hatred of Adverts 

      From DigitaSpy

      PLEASE, don't let this mean that the BBC will be forced to have the evil ADVERTS! Thats one of the main reasons why I like the BBC, the fact we fund it and that theres no adverts. I hate adverts!

      Im sorry about that, ill just crawl under a rock now...

      Marketising the media post 1990 broadcasting act leads to higher prices not lower, from DigitalSpy:

      You know, i agree with you on that! (a first) Although it's not always the BBC that decides the fee it pays to the indies - it's the market ultimately. And the market price goes up and up and up the more the BBC is forced to use them.(My emphasis)

      A more sophisticated contribution linked costs to the issue of Social Justice / Citizenship from DigitalSpy

      But what about people that already struggle to pay the current £11.30 a month? Is it really fair to expect them to pay more?

      One alternative may be to strip out some of the BBC's 'premium' services, like iPlayer & charge extra for that. Technically it'd be easier to enforce & people that can afford fast broadband should be able to afford, say an extra £10-15 a year.

      An antipopulist contribution in support of weighty programming from the Toynbee box:  

      Another problem is how often the more serious-minded BBC programs are jazzed up and undermined with populist techniques such as excessive use of CG, intrusive and inappropriate background music, dramatic reconstructions, focusing on controversial aspects of a subject and not the subject in the round, cutting out specialist/technical use of language by experts interviewed for programs. The BBC appears to have lost faith in making serious, weighty programs.

      I agree - handing out the license fee to other broadcasters would be a disaster.

      Arguments for advertising to make 'TV' "free" at the point of consumption model

      This one is from the Organgrinder Comments Box

      Pulic service causes? Surely the political trick of getting the BBC to pay for digital switchover (so OFCOM can sell the spectrum!) makes a mockery of this?

      Copyright Payments? Does this mean I get all my digital media consumption free (both as in beer and speech)?

      I don't think you've quite thought this idea through - so it may have been better to leave it "in the box" a bit longer.

      The only viable model is the ad-funded one, as the cultural expectations for online digital media consumption, at the moment, is free at the point of delivery.

      The more thought out arguments for topslicing (We would see the back of Big Brother :-) ) 

      From Corin at DigitalSpy:

      Channel 4 was set up by the Thatcher administration as an advertizing funded network, so quite simply, if they did not carry paid commercial messages, they would have no income.

      As for wasting money on programs such as Big Brother, Channel 4 have to generate sufficient audiences of the appropriate demographics in order to attract the advertizers who pay the bills and since Big Brother is an extremely inexpensive method of filling hours of the network schedule, it is very cost effective, but as you quite rightly observe, devoid of cultural and educational benefit. It could be argued that if this pays for the other quality programing, then it is a necessary sacrifice however unpleasant.

      Of course, if the were more creative and innovative producers of programming, they would be able to broadcast something of substance even though produced on a very limited budget, as did the BBC in the 1960s.

      More thoughtful comment from DigitalSpy: 

      ok i have not read all of peoples comments on this thread but all i say is i think it should be top sliced but we have to pay a bit more for the licence fee. so an extra £15 a year on top of what we pay now. in return ITV take £10 of that to produce a min amount of 10 hours of regional programmes and bring childrens tv back poss 15 hours of that too and a small dose of other things. while CH4 also does childrens tv and other things that are different like along the lines of BBC2 with wildlife etc
      at the end of the day people whp pay for cable and sky tv should be able to pay extra for the licence fee too.

      On Excess in the BBC (difficult not to be horrified in the case of Johnathan Ross now Stephen Fry...) 

      How they use them & how they pay them is though.

      Remember Jonathan Ross's £18m pay deal, or not pay deal because it's paying for his 'indie', of which he presumably is a shareholder & would share in any profits.

      That's not necessarily a bad thing as long as the profits are not unreasonable & the BBC/licence payer benefits from that investment.

      It's also not necessarily unreasonable for shareholders to profit. ITV's shareholders are probably mostly institutional investors (give or take Sky's chunk) & so 'shareholder profits' help pensions etc.
      (My emphasis)

      DigitalSpy on whether Topslicing might actually reduce market prices: 

      Not really. Any market needs buyers & sellers & if it's a functional market, prices tend to equalise.


      The BBC does decide some pricing, ie if it keeps paying it, prices will rise, if it stops paying it, prices should fall. If the BBC can't influence the price, then that sounds like cartel behaviour & price fixing, which would be illegal.

      It can (or should be able to) influence prices, the main restriction it has is the quotas imposed on it, then any self-imposed restrictions created by cutting it's production facilities.

      If it can no longer produce it's own content, then it has less choice where to source it & has to go to market, where it's buying power can have a bigger impact on the market & force prices up for all broadcasters..

      Or potentially the opposite, but that's not necessarily in it's interests if it's 'competitive' & focused on ratings.

      Both OFCOM & the BBC Trust are looking at the effect the BBC has on the market & topslicing
      may be a way to damp cost increases. (My emphasis)

      What the Commercial Broadcasters Think

      According to this report from the Times on February 18th 2008 ITV & Sky have rejected Conservative Party proposals to share the BBC licence fee. One can resonably suppose they are not altruistic rather they feel that they would make less money that way. Rather by curtailing the activities to providing services that they don't want to they can forge ahead making profits, however in the case of ITV the path to profit looks rather a tortuous one:

      A Conservative plan to make the BBC share the £3.4 billion proceeds of the licence fee has run into opposition from commercial broadcasters.

      David Cameron has ordered a rethink of the proposals, which he was sent for final approval last month, after ITV and BSkyB made clear that they were unhappy at the prospect of being required to take public funds, The Times has learnt. 

      Topslicing a Political Potato: Maybe?

      Sadly the current New Labour has a way with it of taking Tory clothes which can only irritate quite a lot of people a lot of the time however it has managed to confuse everybody by presiding over rampant inflation in house prices and endangering recent first-time buyers with the prospect of negative equity. Lets hope they don't follow the current Tory policy of supporting the topslicing of the BBC Licence Fee.

      At midday today 31st of March rather than April 1st) the Tory party came out with a position on topslicing the licence fee. The timing makes this seem like a serious policy being tested out in the run up to the May elections and also in a year when there is an election for the Mayor of London.   

      Cameron and James Hunt Topslicing plan

      David Cameron here supporting his shadow Minister of Culture James Hunt in a call for the topslicing of the BBC Licence fee in the name of "diversity".

      James Hunt came out with a blatantly flawed statement in the published paper in support of this which commented:

      "When Channel 4, ITV and Sky are at their best they raise the bar for the BBC. Without them, the BBC will atrophy," (BBC online news)

      "In order to avoid crowding out innovation in the Internet, publicly funded public service broadcasters should be wary of assuming there is a wide-ranging role for public service Internet activity," it said. (Daily Mail online 31st March).

      The report said the BBC had used its brand to create a "massively strong - and controversial - online presence", with BBC Online now the most visited British website.
      "The real danger is that a dominant online presence by a state broadcaster will crowd out the innovation that a market will naturally encourage," it added. (Daily Mirror online ibid)

      Now this is fairly clearly a ridiculous thing to be saying. The BBC creates - despite furious complaints about mispending  of the license fee - one of the most popular websites, not just in Britain but in the World. Apparently it has something in the order of over 17 million users. 

      Now in an age of hundreds of millions of web users this certainly seems successful but then there are thousands of other innovative sites out there most of which are commercial. The fact that the BBC has so many users tells us both about the quality of the content and the service and about the desire for very large numbers of users to have a service which is based upon the notions of citizenship before consumption which is what public service broadcasting is all about!

      If the Tories want to go about crtiticsing success in a highly competitive media world then just carry on being out in the electoral desert because you clearly haven't changed your neo-liberal spots. The main problems is currently getting the Not so New but decidedly tarnished Labour party to change theirs! The Tories have no real evidence to back up their absurd statement the y more quickly they withdraw it the better. Even ITV don't want licence fee money Michael Grade wants to make the money slumming it, although it seems an unlikely prospect in the long-term.  

      The fact is that the BBC is remarkably open as this open invitation to contribute to redesigning the home page to meet the needs of a remarkably diverse target audience  shows:

      Reboot Logo

      Blast from the past

      Monochrome TV Licence holders are fading away

      Monochrome Telly

      Webliography

      Nicholas Jones Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom

      BBC Trust Speech at Oxford Media Convention by Michael Lyons Chair of the Trust January 2008

      Link to a forum on this topic run by DigitalSpy 

      Link to Guardian 'Organgrinder' forum on topslicing  

      The Register: BBC: Death by a thousand top-slices (I confess I haven't really looked at the Register before but on this article and links it looks well worth keeping an eye on)  

      Polly Toynbee in the Guardian on Topslicing  In terms of the digital public sphere this has a huge number of comments on it many of which make excellent points. It is a very useful source of arguments although there are a fw silly unthought out contributions (presumably from Murdoch supporters!)

      Business Times on Topslicing Jan 2008. (Beware paper from the Murdoch Stable) 

      Evening Standard on the Licence Fee 

      Raymond Snoddy Independent: Monday, 21 January 2008

      BBC News on Topslicing threat in 2005

      Media Watch UK 

      A proper academic response to the clumsy marketisation ideas of Ofcom in 2004 from Sylvia Harvey

      David Edgar: London Review of Books

      For more on this blog on public service broadcasting


      March 05, 2008

      Is ITV Going down the Tubes?

      Is  ITV Going down the tubes?

      ITV Logo


      Introduction

      Beginning to examine the British TV system in the contemporary Broadcasting / Multicasting environment can be little else but a work in progress which at least gives a notion of forward movement. It is highly debateable whether TV as we know it has got a promising future. Here we examine the long-term decline of ITV which up until the early 1990s had been the companion of the BBC in the British Broadcasting duopoly. What is discussed below is the question of whether the gloabl economic recession will send ITV to the wall or will it force a takeover or set of mergers. Whatever the outcome it is expected that ITV will not survive the next 18 months in its present form. 

      One of my alert Sixth Formers alerted me to the fact that a problem had been announced with ITV, this morning. Well it was a very big but expected problem. ITV profits sank by a monstrous 38%.

      Commercial broadcaster ITV has seen its annual profits for 2007 fall by 35% to £188m after a difficult year, but says its "turnaround plan is on track" (BBC News online check this page to listen to Michael Grade's rather tetchy protesting too much responses to serious questions. What does that tell you?)

      It certainly begs the question about whether current shareholders should run for the exits and get what money they can for the shares despite the presence of the rather abrasive Michael Grade who came in a year ago to try and turn around ITV's lack of fortunes. It is a problem exacerbated by the great phone calls rip off, where loyal but rather naive suckers were phoning in to try and win competitions after the entries had been closed by the institution without telling anybody.

      Michael Grade

      Michael Grade currently ITV Chief Executive

      Former BBC One controller Peter Fincham will join ITV as director of television, replacing Simon Shaps, the commercial broadcaster has said.

      Of course I should have guessed these highly significant results were coming out as Monday's Media Guardian was full of upbeat messages about how well TV was doing with viewing hours up. The back page even featured a full page advvert claiming that teenagers were spending more time on line "discussing what they had seen on the TV Yesterday"!!!! 

      teenagers online...discussing what they had seen on the TV Yesterday"!!!!

      Well I don't think so! Neither did anybody else in the class. A couple said they mentioned a TV programme if they had just seen it and were explaining what they were doing, but to pretend that this is a harkback to the days of mass TV audiences who discussed a significant programme such as Coronation Street the following day...RISIBLE (LOL 2U).

      Grade's struggle to turnaround the failing ITV

      Below I look at the beginnings of change in the approach of ITV and place it into the contemporary world of rapidly increasing economic crisis in the US and ultimately the UK.  The fact is that the health of the macro-economy is extremly important to the survival and profitability of media companies. I suggest that the emerging economic crisi as well as a changing media environment is going to dramatically effect companies which are effectively medium scale regional players. ITV is one of these and it has had a series of failures and problems in the past few years which now make perhaps the weakest media company in the UK. With the chill wind of recession gathering pace there is little chance of ITV surviving in its present form. Whilst there is no doubt that Grade is probably the best man to get the best out ITV when it gets taken over or merges with another company or is broken up into a production arm and a distribution arm the market view is currently very pesssimistic. 

      As far as Sky is concerned they would probably prefer to see the company break-up into a production arm and a distribution arm. With a 17.9% chunk which will need to be sold as a single chunk they are undubtedly engineering deals behind Grade's back. Perhaps with Disney is one suggestion. A likely outcome would then be the production arm being sold off, which might end up with Virgin Media who have no production presence and sorely need some in an era when production for the mobile market after 2012 is going to be highly significant.  It is hard to imagine what Disney would want with the news service and obviously Sky don't need it. Perhaps Virgin would take it on board? another possible is Bertelsmann, certainly speculation is rife, just don't expect ITV to last long in its present form. Grade is increasingly embattled.

      Bertelsmann has always been the obvious buyer for BSkyB's stake in ITV. Its subsidiary RTL already owns channel Five. Now that Bertelsmann has shelved plans to spend £710m buying the remaining 10pc of RTL that it does not own, perhaps it will seek new targets to channel those funds. (By Juliette Garside Daily Telegraph Last Updated: 11:48pm GMT29/01/2008)

      Regional Cutbacks

      One of ITV's original strengths was the fact that it was a network and that it provided strong regional idenitities. Arguably it forced a change in the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) remit. Nowadays it wants to maximise profits (well minimize losses in thier case). As a result massive cuts are being made in regional programming. Given that one of the remits for PSB in the 2006 white paper was to provide for regional identity this is a little ironic! Let's look at what the Press Gazette has to say about it all:

      ITV has already cut its regional budget by almost five per cent ahead of a drastic reorganisation of its news output over the next two years, the broadcaster revealed today.
      In its end-of-year results, published this morning, ITV said its regional programming costs were reduced by £5m in 2007, down 4.2 per cent to £114m.
      Regional news accounts for about three quarters of this budget, or £85m - a figure which could be cut to £40m if ITV's regional news reorganisation is approved by Ofcom.
      Under the proposals, the existing 17 news regions will be merged to form nine bigger regions. Widespread redundancies are expected as part of the cuts.(Press Gazette Paul McNally)

      Grade's optimism seems wildly misplaced given that the economy in general is heading into a downturn. However deep that downturn is the advertising industry is always the first to react. Just look at the regional advertising for newspapers from the important Johnstone press group which also announced its results today:  

      Johnston Press has ruled out making any "significant acquisitions" this year and has warned it is beginning to feel the impact of a slowdown in advertising.
      The regional newspaper group posted a 4.6 per cent decline in profit to £178.1m for 207, with revenue up 0.9 per cent to £607.5m.
      In its end-of-year results, published this morning, Johnston said print advertising revenue fell 2.1 per cent in 2007.
      Early indications based on the first few weeks of 2008 pointed to a 4.2 per cent decline in ad revenue compared with the same time last year, with motoring and property advertising among the worst-hit. (Paul McNally)

      Economic Slowdown / Recession / Stagflation: The Evidence

      Grade has tried to brush off the ITV share price as just a bit of a 'panic about a consumer downturn' however Evan Davis the BBC Economics editor makes some salient points about retail sales. Let's take a look at what is actually going on. The state of the US economy is fundamental in what happens because it represent 25% of the total world economy! The BBC economics pages make this clear: 

      The US economy, a $15 trillion giant which makes up 25% of the world economy, is in trouble, and could drag down world growth. The US central bank has cut interest rates aggressively and the US Congress is planning an economic stimulus package to prevent a recession.

      The chart from the 31st of January 2008 below is a disturbing one.

      US Economic Growth Figures

      This useful BBC timeline provides links to Bank losses in January and February

      US economy in slowdown says Fed 5th March

      Confidence level at four-year low (UK)

      Housing market slowing in Europe 5th March

      One in five 'has mortgage fears' 4th March

      French Bank hit by losses sustained in US property market 5th March

      Thursday March 6th. Large rise in USA of people losing their homes

      United States March 7th Unemployment rises. This will contribute to a rise in home forclosures. A dangerous downward spiral is in danger of occurring.  

      By Friday the Seventh March the US Federal Reserve seems to have been panicked yet again

      Monday March 10th: BBC reports consumer prices at a 16 year high  

      Monday March 10th:  Oil hits record price of over $108 per barrel

      Monday March 10th: ITV Targets Youth Audience on BEBO. (Adaptation or desperation) 

      Tuesday March 11th: The UK's employment outlook is the weakest for 15 years, as companies continue to cut back on their recruitment plans, a report claims.

      Tuesday March 11th: The price of crude oil has set a fresh record at $109.72, its fifth day in a row of historic highs.

      Tuesday March 11th: The mortgage market is shrinking under the impact of the continuing problems in the banking system, say lenders.

      Tuesday March 11th: The world's largest central banks have launched their latest co-ordinated action to calm jittery credit markets. The question many re asking is whther this is a sign of panic and whether they do anything more than hold up flagging markets for a bit. Many commentators argue that central bank intervention can't deal with the underlying issue of too much spending on credit in the UK and the USA. 

      Wednesday March 12th: The price of crude oil has set a fresh record for a sixth consecutive day, hitting $110.20 as a falling dollar encouraged buying.

      Thursday 13th March looks unlucky for some

      1. Big fall in retail sales in the USA in February. Is this more than straws in the wind? 
      2. Gold hits $1,000 per ounce for the first time ever. Gold always goes up when investors are looking for 'safe haven'. Bit more than a consumer panic I think Mr Grade
      3. Whilst this news will create a flood of crocodile tears the fact that a hedge fund Carlyle Capital is going under even after the Fed and other central banks have taken action to try and reassure the markets shows how deep the lack of confidence is. Read this article and the associated Peston blog to see why this is important
      4. The fact that AOL has acquired BEBO for what seems to be  something of a bargain price shows just how down the market is on media and advertising at the moment.  A good  buy for AOL - does  this harbinger a good-bye for ITV as the media sector loks to 'consolidate'? AOL itself has suffered recent profit falls and is seeking to reposition itself in the internet marketplace. They can afford to buy ITV cannot!
      5. Oh yes and car depreciation rates are set to increase by %8 more than usual this year. Whilst a glimmer of schadenfreude passes the lips as a Range Rover passes the fact of the matter is that all the signs of recession there. In an era when targeted rather than mass advertising is the thing, particularly finding the premuim markets, what is ITV going to be advertising and too whom. Taking a topslicing if the government offers might be a good idea!
      6. A rather telling quotation from a city economist rather than a  panic stricken consumer: "Looking at the markets there is a complete loss of confidence and that's because the markets are concerned over the US financial sector and ultimately what the Federal Reserve will be forced to do to support that sector."

      Friday 14th:

      1. US bank Bear Stearns has got emergency funding, in a move that raises fears that one of Wall Street's biggest names is on the verge of collapsing.
          • ...if Bear Stearns had been allowed to collapse, it could have put the whole financial system at risk.

            Bear Stearns shares dropped as much as 53% on the news before finishing Friday trading down 46%.

              Monday 17th: Well the day Bear Stearns banks is taken over for peanuts. This is a powerful financial institution with shares worth at one point apparently 100 times the selling share price of a mere $2.00 US!!! OK ITV isn't a bank but then its shares were never a few hundred dollars. 

              Still think Grade was right about brushing off the state of the economy? The fact isthe outlook is bleak for the weakest sections of the media in general. Expect 'consolidation' over the next 18months (especially with ITV).

              House Repossessions

              House Repossessions rising significantly. 4th of March

              US manufacturing activity shrinks 3rd March

              Property prices fall in February (for the fourth month in a row) 28th February

              Falling House Price 2008

              FSA sees credit squeeze on banks 27th February

              The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has warned banks that the crisis in the financial markets will force them to change the way they do business.

              All this very recent economic and business data shows had bad it is becoming, it seems that an advertising slowdown is well under way. Grade may get a larger share of a falling market but is that good enough? Well most investors must be examining whether it worth holding onto their shares at the moment.  Obviously Sky TV hold around 17% of these shares which it bought at a much high price in order to block any potential takeover from Virgin Media. If forced to sell Sky would make a large loss but from a strategic perspective it would probably be worth it.

              The fact of the matter is that everyday the business and stock markets come out with worse news about financial expectations. The debate over the preceding months has moved from one of a bit of overexposure to sub-prime mortgages in the US to yesterdays slumping markets as a recognition that the US is inexorably heading into recession comes to the fore. The problem for the rest of the world is that it is still highly dependent upon the US which has been living on credit for a long time. Now people are begining to draw the line.

              The UK is clearly in a very weak economic position with an overvalued pound, a housing market which has become entirely disconnected to economic fundamentals because of the availability of cheap credit which has lulled houseowners into feeling richer than they are because the house prices have nominally trebled in value in recent years.

              This is likely to have an enormous effect upon ITV and other commercial media companies, becuase the advertising spend is going to to start drying up big-time. People are rapidly reigning in their spending at a time when the basic cost of living is suddenly beginning to soar in terms of fuel and transport, heating and food costs. At the same time the cost of products is beginning to rise because of the cost of basic commodities such as metals. Interestingly there has been the return of the term "stagflation" in economic discourse.

              Stagflation is a term which emerged in the 1970s partially as a response to high oil prices which coincided with the end of the post-war economic long-boom.  It described a period when prices were increasing faster than wages and economic growth had halted accompanied by a gradual rise in unemployment.

              Whilst the sort of recession seen in the world in 1929 is very unlikely because financial institutions are far more aware of how to manage things there is likely to be a prolonged downturn in spending in the U.K. This means that advertising budgets will become rapidly reduced and overall economic activity is likely to see the weakest media organisations go bankrupt or be taken over by the strong. however a quick read of the influential 'Lex' column this morning (Saturday 08 / 03 / 08) makes my glomy prognosis by no means the most pessimistic about economic futures :

              Now after a very nasty week in markets, the whispers are that it might be the big one: the worst crisis since the 1930s. Signals of distress abound: Yesterday's non-farm payroll data were awful, the US auction rate market is closed, bank shares are collapsing, interbank rates are back in the dnager zone and debt spreads are ballooning. even sovereign borrowers such as Italy are being hit. Meanwhile credit funds that made silly bets are dying." 

              ITV is in a very weak position. It appeals to audiences who tend to be in the lower income brackets and who will feel the consequenses of any economic downturn the most. In the past this would have meant a reduction in profits but shareholders in a stable media environment would know that this was very much a cyclical business with any economic good news rapidly being translated into increased advertising revenue. 

              Because the nature of employment has changed quite a lot of economic activity can be reduced on the margins of society. People will go out to eat less and jobs for teenage studnets may become lower paid, shorter hours or disappear altogether. This is important because these teenagers usually feed their earnings straight back into the market-place buying cultural goods and services feeding the "cultural industries". 

              Already in the US we can see problems emerging in organisations such as Starbucks which is very much the beneficiary of some spare cash in the system:

              Starbucks has been hit by a combination of rising raw material costs, which has forced it to raise prices and a drop in consumer confidence as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which has made its expensive coffee a little less alluring. The company increased prices over the summer but pricing pressures are continuing - milk prices, for instance, have increased more than 60% since the start of the year. (Guardian November 2007)

              Now if you read this story at first sight it seems to contradict my argument regarding advertising becuase they are going to try and advertise their way out of trouble.  Prior to this though Starbucks had never advertised and the other thing is they now have much more competition. Given the nature of the crisis it is unlikely that advertising is going to make anything other than a short-term difference. The next step will be special offers and promotions and will provide evidence that Starbucks is no longer a premium brand. By January 8th Starbucks had lost its chief executive:

              Starbucks has sacked its chief executive Jim Donald and handed the reins back to its chairman and former chief executive, Howard Schultz. (BBC Report)

              What we can expect in the UK over the next 18months is a consolidation of the market with brands coming up for auction. Possibly private equity will encourage the merging of a couple of brands. We have Cafe Nero / Costa Coffee / Starbucks in most town and city centres. Expect some to go! 

              The Changed Media Environment

              As if the general outlook for media in genral is pretty bleak there are specific factors which contribute to ITV's position as the investment dog amongst media companies. A lot of things have changed in the British media environment in recent years. The internet is still making a huge difference and models of media are still adapting and creating. Here the audience of ITV will tend to be less computer literate and to have lower numbers of computers in the household.  Many of this lower income audience upon whom ITV relies upon especially in the north of Britain have been largely excluded from the nominal rise in house prices which have fuelled the hidden inflation promoted by the government. They are most exposed to the credit squeeze and they inevitably end up with the most expensive credit which after all is spending one's future earnings / income at a price!

              The vast range of different types of media consumption is also also changing audiences. young people spend a lot of income upon games, mobiles, iPods etc.

              The changing media environment had meant that increasingly commercial TV companies had started to change the basis  of their revenue streams in a mockery of much hyped so-called "interactivity". This was the increasingly popular model of creating TV Premium phone-lines for viewers to "particiapte" in media events that were being staged (so-called "reality-TV" for example). To some extent this was managing to move commercial broadcasting companies away form their dpendence upon advertising revenue as advertisers themselves began to migrate onto the internet taking thier budgets with them.  


              Fragmenting Audiences

              As if the above unfurling economic slowdown isn't enough of a problem there is a problem of fragmenting audiences who are getting their content from elsewhere often via the internet. Young people seem to be gradually migrating away from TV and the TV they watch is clearly more targeted at youth audiences. My sixth form students seem to watch Channel Four the most and experience it as the main TV company which is aimed at 'Youth'. With a range of digital channels and forms of public service broadcasting coming from the BBC such as Asian Network there is also a growth of ethnically based media consumers as well. An OFCOM research report from July 2007 suggests that there will be little incentive for ITV to provide public service broadcasting  for regional news services.

              ITV certainly isn't targeted at today's aspirant consumers it is a channel "for grannies" commented one of my sixth-formers. Perhaps a little ageist but the fundamental point is that advertising itself is fragmenting and chasing 'niche' audiences. These niches themesleves are quite dynamic and multicasters have to be able to respond to changing tastes and fashions very quickly.

              Loss of trust in ITV and to some extent BBC

              As mentioned earlier revenue streams for broadcasting companies  previously dependent upon advertising increasingly promoted a model of cheap TV which provided the opportunity to get audiences to participate using premium phone-lines. Here I argue that to a large extent this led to an increased 'dumbing down' of popular TV and ultimately led to a total ripping off of the audiences. The long-term outcome of this is still unfolding however it is questionable whether ITV can continue in its current form.

              Where is ITV Now?

              There are signs of desparation crreping in at ITV as Michael Grade carries on with attempting what appears tobe structurally impossible. This recent Daily Telegraph comment on the business angle shows a scepticism is is hard to disagree with: 

              Show goes on for Grade as Shaps exits

              By Alistair Osborne, Business Editor
              Last Updated: 1:40am GMT01/03/2008

              ITV has instigated a bold management shake-up that sees the departure of television director Simon Shaps and the extension of Michael Grade's tenure as executive chairman for another year.

              As the Telegraph notes in ITV:  

              The shares, down 37pc in the last 12 months, slipped 2.4 to 68.7p. Mr Grade said: "The share price is all to do with panic over a consumer downturn and the overhang of BSkyB’s 17.9pc stake."

              Below in July an investment advice website This is Money noted the optimistic outlook of Michael Grade who argued in July 2007 that advertising outlook was looking strong. Clearly this argument is obviated by the current economic conditions outlined above.  

              First-half ad revenues at ITV1 were down 9% at £595m, slightly better than Grade had forecast at the group's annual meeting in May. With digital stations ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4 and GMTV together producing a 24% rise in ad revenues to £122m, the overall group decline in the first half was 5%.
              The British television advertising market looks to be recovering strongly and is expected to be up by 10% in July. ITV's own experience shows that demand became increasingly strong through May and June.
              Chief operating officer John Cresswell said: 'Returning stability in the total TV advertising market has been an important feature of the first half, as has the improving schedule performance and the roll-out of itv.com.'

              Below are the latest share prices taken from the BBC Markets page on Saturday 15th March. They make pretty grim reading having dropped by a quater since Xmas.

              ITV share price over three months

              Here is a chart for the ITV share price for the last 12 months, it makes pretty grim reading for Sky who have bought over !7% of the company:

              ITV 12 month share price

              Under the circumstances the ITV News at Ten initiative without adverts seems like a desperate measure to recapture audiences reports the Guardian :


              ITV is running its resurrected News at Ten without any advertising breaks - a move that is set to cost it hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost revenue.
              The broadcaster said today it had no immediate plans to introduce a commercial break into the programme, after the first edition of the new-look programme ran uninterrupted last night, with a commercial break at the end before the regional news.
              ITV traditionally runs commercials halfway through its nightly news bulletin, with 60-second spots some of the most expensive on the network at up to £100,000.
              Industry sources said the move to run the new
              ad-free is a bid to lure more viewers away from BBC1's 10 O'Clock News, which runs uninterrupted.

              The Guardian reports that the return of News at Ten haslargely been a failure leaving ITV an even more unconvincing bet:

              BBC1's Ten O'Clock News has pulled in almost twice as many viewers as News at Ten since the ITV1 bulletin was relaunched a month ago.
              Figures for the revamped News at Ten show that since the bongs returned on January 14, it has pulled in an average of 2.7 million viewers, Monday to Thursday, when the ITV1 bulletin is head to head with its BBC1 rival.
              This compares with the 4.8 million viewers who have been tuning into BBC1's 10pm news on average.  

              The ITV Owned loss making Carlton Screen Advertising 

              As if the above information isn't bad enough one of ITV's subsidiary organisations is managing to make a magnificent loss in the Cinema advertising industry. Hard to make a loss in a part of the economy which has been doing well but is likely to be hit as the recession develops. The Times recounts the sorry story yet another in the story of ITV mismanagement making you feel sorry for Michael Grade (well almost):

              The company behind Australian cinema chain Hoyts is looking to buy loss-making Carlton Screen Advertising from ITV.
              Pacific Equity Partners is one of two parties to have registered interest with Grant Thornton, the broadcaster’s adviser.
              Once worth £80m, analysts now value CSA at nothing, despite healthy cinema attendances. ITV may even have to pay someone to take it off its hands.

              The backdrop to declining audiences for both ITV and BBC in 2007

              The Daily Telegraph noted on the 19th January 2008 that:

              The fall in ratings follows an embarrassing 12 months marred by phone-in scandals, with both channels being forced to apologise to viewers for encouraging them to enter competitions they never stood a chance of winning. BBC1's share's of viewers during the peak 8pm to 11pm slot fell from 24.22 per cent in 2006 to 23.43 per cent in 2007, while ITV fell fromFor the first time in television history, fewer than half of viewers watched either BBC1 or ITV1 during prime-time last year. 26.82 per cent to 25.32. The ratings, published by Broadcast magazine, were based on official figures by the research organisation Barb.

              Grade stands by ITV strategy By Ben Fenton Published: March 5 2008 08:05 | Last updated: March 5 2008 21:18

              This article by Fenton in the Financial Times below sees Grade upbeat despite evidence to the contrary:

              Analysts said that, although the company had reported a good start to 2008, it was vulnerable to a slowdown in consumer spending and would be among the first to suffer the effects of tighter advertising budgets.

              Below is a share chart of the successful advertising agency WPP over the last 12 months which doesn't make pretty reading and clearly shows what he market thinks about the liklehood of a serious downturn in the eonomy in the near future. Inevitably advertising and media are very responsive to change in consumer budgets:

              WPP 12 Month Share Price 2

              WPP was very confidant about a good 2008 as can be seen in this trading statement:

              WPP, the world's second-biggest advertising group, expects 2008 to be a bumper year for the industry. The Beijing Olympics, the US presidential election and the European football championships are expected to boost business, it said.

              Maintaining a Public Service Broadcasting Remit

              Michael Grade is nothing if not dogged. At this Ofcom conference in Cardiff whilst the phone-in scandal was reverberating Grade put the case for how wonderful ITV is at regional broadcasting:ITV's role in the nations and regions

              But I want to start today by emphasising the place that ITV plays in national broadcasting and reflecting all of Britain back to itself.
              This year ITV will broadcast around 2,000 hours of dedicated programming for the nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, across news, current affairs and other programming.
              That represents a total investment of tens of millions of pounds every year across SMG, UTV and ITV Wales in programming for the nations.
              Remember none of our main commercial competitors provide a single minute or invest a single penny in such programming. It is just ITV providing a vital alternative to the BBC in this critical genre.
              In addition, producers in the nations continue to win network commissions out of the 50% of the ITV1 budget that goes outside London. That represents a further £30 million over the last couple of years, including programmes as diverse as Rebus and The All Star Poker Challenge.

              Of I fully accept that "All Star Poker Challenge" is a fundamentally crucial piece of regional broadcasting which manages to maintain the identity of a region of gamblers, sharks and small time crooks and presumabaly tax-evaders (are we talking the Isle of Man here?). Certainly the term "diverse" can hide a multitude of sins. Please note that the current government wants to top-slice the licence fee to support this kind of drivel. This is how business media analysts view Public Service Broadcasting as Brand Republic argues:

              Grade has also managed to dump most of its remaining public service obligations (arguably bringing back 'News At Ten' is ITV's attempt at compensation for this) and he may even be able to get rid of the hated Contract Rights Renewal (which allows advertisers to reduce their spend in line with ratings) soon.

              Recent Reports on the Future of ITV

              BBC Business report  2006:  Sky and ITV  

              Independent  07 March 2007

              This Times report from October 2007 on the success of Google advertising probably sounded the death knell of ITV as even the flagship of former year's Coronation Street is shown to be a blast from the past when it comes to creating revenue: 

              Google’s headline advertising revenues surpassed ITV1’s in the third quarter as the search engine demonstrated it could generate more money from sponsored links than 30-second commercials in Coronation Street.

              Grade may find a glimer of hope in this comment from the World Advertising Research Centre: 

              85% of consumers still find TV advertising to have the most impact on their buying habits, although online ads come second best with 65% saying they have the most impact, ahead of magazines at 63%. (World Advertising Research Centre March 8th 2008).

              However the bad news for Grade is that according to WARC the UK at 14% has the highest share of advertising based upon the internet and it's rising. Try out WARC's clickable globe to compare UK and other countries.

              ITV's Broadcasting Portfolio 

              The week ending Friday 21st March brought some interesting aspects of ITV's sports portfolio. sports after all has elements of Public Service Broadcasting embedded within it in terms of national regional and local representation it can also generate a lot of money in advertising. 

              The good news for ITV is that is has retained the broadcasting rights to EUEFA Cahampions League until 2012 as the BBC has reported:

              From August 2009 the channel will broadcast the first pick of Wednesday night games, including the final and Uefa Super Cup Final.

              however Sky has gained part of this competition:

              BSkyB earlier won the right to show coverage of live matches and highlights on a Tuesday, plus matches other than the first choice on Wednesdays.

              The BBC declined to bid for this one.

              Formula One

              Thankfully that ecologically stimulating sport Formula One is back with the BBC who have regained it after 12 years. This is strange as with Hamilton a potential British World Champion giving such a strong naotional interest in the sport it has probably never ben more popular. Was ITV short of the readies to bid up? One must presume either this or else the possibility of splitting up. It seems that Ecclestone is concerned with the future prospects of ITV reading between the lines of his comment on Radio 5 Live:

              Asked why he had decided to split with ITV, Ecclestone told BBC Radio 5 Live: "It's not that we are unhappy with ITV but I think maybe they will have their hands full with other things and maybe the BBC can service us a bit better.

              Ex Formula One presenter Murray Walker who did it for both BBC and ITV has expressed his astonishment and also thinks there is something else going on: 

              Murray Walker, former F1 commentator for both the BBC and ITV, said: "I'm absolutely flabbergasted - I was lying in bed listening to the news this morning and I almost fell out of bed when I heard it.
              "It's an amazing development because I think ITV did and do a superb job, and I think there is more to this than meets the eye." (ibid)

               

               

              Conclusion

              Whilst it is premature to predict the total demise of ITV, in its current format and in the current economic climate it is hard to imagine a viable business model for the future. With Sky having a 17.9% stake and Richard Branson around 11% it is clear that the sharks are circling. Grade's interview with the BBC business programme so viciously cut out any questions about ITV being split into production and distribution arms inevitably points up the weakest point in Grade's armour. As Virgin doesn't need a distribution system a deal with Sky for the 17.9% stake in which Virgin would keep the production arm might be a possibility. The fact that we can sit around and speculate the likely outcomes at all would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. It shows how far ITV has fallen and how it has really failed to keep up with the rapidly changing media environment. Obviously any deal would have to go through regulatory approval, however with the probability of declining revenues and the possibility of a failing company on its hands the regulator would be under considerable pressure from the market. Grade's strategy of producing better quality programming is an expensive risk which might have worked in a different economic environment but would rely upon increasingly risk averse bankers to provide the funding. One can only assume that Grade is trying to rally around other large shareholders and trying to stitch up a deal which allows him him to exit from the post with a semblance of dignity and which outmanoeuvres both Sky and Virgin. Grade could try to enlarge the  group  by merging with other troubled media groups such as Scottish Media Group.  This would provide much needed consolidation in the sector and might act to water down  Sky's holding but it seems a thin hope.

              Postscript

              Coming back to this a couple of months later we can see how bombastic Grade's claims were. There has been aserious financial meltdown and there is little doubt that ITV will suffer from this. Added to this thay have just been fined a large amount of money by Ofcom over the telephone scam of around a year ago.  


              July 19, 2007

              The BBC Scandal: Public Service Broadcasting Undermined?

              What Now For the BBC?

              Introduction

              Like many users it has come as a shock to me that the BBC has had to admit to such a range of scandals and other shenannigens such as faking phone in results, alongside ridiculous 'errors' such as the trailer of the Queen apparently leaving photographer Annie Liebovitz 'in a huff'.  I certainly have a huge respect for the BBC as a media institution and for many decades it has led the World in the concept of public service broadcasting (PSB). It certainly became trendy amongst many media critics to knock the BBC for being elitist, top-down and all the rest of it. Perhaps a case of well meaning  left-liberalism  being blind to the dangers of  rampant commercialism which as Theodor Adorno pointed out realistically many years ago would lead to crass populism in the media. Adorno was of course castigated for being a "pessimist" by naive left-liberals.

              Time to support Public Service Broadcasting to the Hilt!

              Instead of looking upon this crisis as an excuse to hammer the BBC and ask for "Heads to Roll" along the lines of Daily Telegraph it is time for those serious about quality media to back the BBC and argue for  a return to an older system of public service broadcasting which predates the 1990 Broacasting Act.  Rather than trying to foist blame on executives in the BBC it is time to lay the blame at the door of the commercialisers. 

              The 1990 Broadcasting Act, amongst other things, required the BBC to outsource a large per centage of its programming rather than producing everything in house.  This  was an action to be expected of a Tory government  in a move initiated by Mrs Thatcher  and  followed up by John Major. It was an Act directly attributable to the ideology of neo-liberalism. The editorial of the Financial Times is quite positive about the use of outsourcing however this requires a massive extra input of training to get these outside contributors 'up to speed', it will also require massive extra managerial effort to make these outsiders more accountable. this all amounts to uneccessary time and effort and money to get the BBC back into the state it was in in 1990 in terms of its organisational ethics! Is that really the way to run things? I doubt it!

              The use of freelances and independent production companies is now a staple element in the BBC’s output, and rightly so. But this means that the organisation can no longer assume its programme makers have grown up with its values. Now it must communicate its editorial standards explicitly not only to BBC lifers but also to independent suppliers and those on short-term contracts. In addition it must be more rigorous in ensuring they are met.(My emphasis Published: July 19 2007 19:34 | Last updated: July 19 2007 19:34 )

              The reality which the Financial Times is hedging around is that the continuous commercial pressure and the drive for ratings is dragging down the BBC to the standards of the lowest common denominator:

              Part of the problem is self-inflicted. In pursuing mass audiences to underpin the legitimacy of the licence fee that is the mainstay of the BBC’s funding, the organisation has sometimes lost sight of the need to provide programming and services different from commercial media. This has led it into the territory of premium phone-line contests and wide-ranging digital ambitions that have helped make the Beeb less distinctive. (ibid).

              Whilst the pathetic phone-line contest ethos should certainly be criticised and the programmes junked, I'm less comfortable about the comment upon the wide-ranging digital ambitions. It is ironical that the BBC is being used by the government to spearhead the national digital ambitions of turning UK broadcasting into a digital cornucopia by 2012. The government here is clearly wanting to auction off more bandwidth to mobile companies to provide video services such as live  Olympics which I assume was part of the bid to win the contest in the first place. No surprises then if Tessa Jowell gets a place on the board of Vodaphone or Virgin Media when she finally leaves office. Of course the Berlusconi empire may beckon given Blair's friendly relationship with him as well. 

              Tessa Jowell

              Under the circumstances it seems natural that the BBC should have wide-ranging digital ambitions, indeed as an aspect of cultural citizenship the BBC should have these ambitions. The problem is that the pusillanimous Blair government watered down the BBC's projects every time some pathetic commercial organisation felt challenged. Look at the furore about limiting the download times for TV programmes for example.

              No crocodile tears for failing commercial ventures!

              Let's not whinge about failing commercial broadcasters, the market is after all the market. The important issue at stake is that of cultural citizenship and the rights of citizens to have high quality broadcast / narrowcast media programmes. There is little doubt that public service broadcasting is best positioned to deliver this and in the UK this means the BBC. When the market can't compete with high quality public service it cries foul and tries to bring the service down to its own level.

              When more equals less

              When it comes to commercial broadcasting more seems to equal less if quality is used as a benchmark. Channel Four depending upon wall to wall Big Brother and its 'controversial' bits such as a commercially healthy bit of rascism seems to prove the point effectively. The reality bit about "reality TV" is the comercial reality! The key issue is that there is probably too much media and too little time for consumers to consume it all. The fact that the BBC has such a wide range of archive material, as well as the ability to create excellent new material - look at its world-beating website - means that commercial stations are seriously challenged. The reality seems to be that consumers don't want the pap that they regularly serve up otherwise they wouldn't be so worried. Advertisers are voting with their feet and following consumers to the internet. Lots of consumers like me are using the internet more than traditional media outlets and the BBC has positioned itself very effectively despite complaints from those with little knowledge or vision about emergent media forms. 

              That the Blair government did nothing to change the situation and that Freeview, which has been a godsend for the BBC and its supporters, emerged out of commercial failure, bears witness to the pusillanimity of New Labour. The fact that Tessa Jowell in the debates around the White Paper of 2006 was discussing subscription services in the next round of Licence Fee negotiations and the possibility of sharing around licence fee monies with other broadcasters is clear evidence of just how in thrall New Labour has been to commercial pressures. 

              PSB and Cultural Citizenship 

              Like many others this blog supports the notion of the strongest possible Public Service Broadcasting system.  Thank heavens Tessa Jowell has been pushed sideways into managing the Olympics. It gives Gordon brown's government the opportunity to reshape Cultural and Media policy in the interests of British citizens and by extension World Citizens. As leading theorists such as David Held have proposed a key way forward for the globalising world is the development of world citizenship. This blog argues that cultural citizenship is an important component of this concept. The principle of public service broadcasting for all global citizens is an aspiration which can and should be furthered by the BBC. Historically the BBC is something Britain can be justifiably proud of. Look at the case of Alan Johnson for example who is an outstanding example of the BBC's finest. Imagine the deep embarrassement of people like this who could be tarred with the brush of the commercialism coming through the back door. The fact that so many journalists from Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world stood up for him bears witness to just how valuable an asset the BBC is in the fight for genuine global citizenship. 

              Alan Johnston



              When you are with one side from the conflict, you have got to put to them the very best arguments of the other side - the toughest questions

              Alan Johnston's comments which seem to sumon up the BBC ethic of the highest quality journalism.  



              No organisation is above criticism but the crisis today is not of its making, it is an inevitable product of the crass commercialism which has been espoused by neo-liberalism of all shades from Thatcher to Blair. Let us be clear on that and start to think about how to have a BBC free from both commercial pressures and a licence fee Sword of Damocles continuously over its head. Government can not always be trusted any more than any other institution. The task today is arguably not so much of the BBC having to sort itself out as the Government being rather more committed to principled public service broadcasting than it has been for the last 17 years. The fact that people such as Alan Johnson exist is evidence that there is still a deeply held ethos, but this will become ever more eroded unless the debate is reopened at a deeper level. 


              July 01, 2007

              Public Service Broadcasting

              Contemporary British Broadcasting: Public Service Broadcasting

              Please note still under construction

              Please follow this link for article discussing whether the BBC license fee should be topsliced.

              There is still some more legislation to include however the webliography is very useful. 

              Introduction

              The question of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) is an especially important one in the Media Issues and Debates Unit of the OCR A Level Media specification. The fact that the BBC has been under a cloud in July 2007 because of vaarious breaches of trust around issues such as falsifying phone-ins has lead to demands for high level resignations which accompany a sense of shock that an institution with such a high quality pedigree could have slipped so far to have allowed these infringements to happen.  I have given a frank opinion on this matter elsewhere on the blog. Here though it is important to establish what the roots of PSB are and why it might still matter today. 

              The BBC Brief

              The BBC for many decades has developed a formula which has gained consensus from the highest instution in the land namely Parliament. The purpose of the BBC historically has been to provide entertainment, information and education. There have been many criticism of the way this formula was applied particularly in the earlier decades of the BBC when the content seemed to be more in favour of education and information with entertainment coming behind in the hierarchy. The entertainment that was priviledged was often considered to be more on the 'elitist' side of culture. This stemmed from the notion that public service meant bringing in the best work which had been achieved by the greatest artists, writerws thinkers etc and ensuring that these ideas became known to a wider public. This has been described as a 'top-down' approach to culture. A more 'democratic' and 'bottom up' approach was promoted by many of the BBC's critics especially from the 1960s onwards when there was a flowering of popular culture and a loosening of the class system with a corresponding desire for a more meritocratic society.

              Brief History of the British Broadcasting Scene /Key Legislation 

              With the development of the broadcasting infrastucture ITV was introduced. The first ITV broadcast was in September 1955 in the London region. Famously the popular Radio soap Opera The Archers tried to keep audiences away from ITV by killing off a key character Grace Archer.  ITV still had a public service broadcasting remit. It was required to entertain, educate and infrom just like the BBC however the balance and style was different and appealed to wider audiences.  

              BBC 2 was launched in April 1964. This allowed the main BBC channel now renamed BBC1 to provide a different mix of lighter entertainment with a more popular appeal. BBC2 could have more adventurous programming without being so beholden to the ratings issue as Wikipedia points out.  

              BBC Two is the second major terrestrial television channel of the BBC. It was the second British television station to be launched by the BBC and Europe's first television channel to broadcast regularly in colour, from 1967, envisaged as a home for less mainstream and more ambitious programming.

              The beginnings of the breakdown of the BBC / ITV duopoly came from Channel 4 which was started under the insistence of Mrs Thatcher in an attempt to develop more choice for consumers and to challenge the dominance of the BBC.  

              Channel 4 is a public-service British television station, broadcast to all areas of the United Kingdom Republic of Ireland), which began transmissions in 1982. Though entirely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned: Originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), the station is now owned and operated by the Channel Four Television Corporation, a public body established in 1990 for this purpose and which came into operation in 1993, following the abolition of the IBA.

              The next big development in Broadcasting was made possible by the 1990 Braodcasting Act. Originally the initiative came from the Thatcher government however after she was removed from office the baton passed to John Major. A summary of the act is available from Screenonline an extract is given below:  

              The Broadcasting Act 1990 required the British Broadcasting Corporation, all Channel 3 Licensees, the Channel 4 Television Corporation, S4C (the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority) and the future Channel 5 Licensee to procure but not less than 25% of total amount of time allocated by those services to broadcasting "qualifying programming" is allocated to the broadcasting of arrangement adversity of "independent productions". The expressions "qualifying programming" and "independent productions" defined in the Broadcasting (Independent Productions) Order 1991.

              As can be seen from the above passage existing TV companies were required to source at least a quarter of their programming from outside companies. This was particularly to effect the BBC as prior to this it produced all its material in-house with exception of films.  Whilst this opened the door to commercial companies this didn't entirely revolutionise British Broadcasting. This came about under the 1996 Broadcasting Act which as Screenonline notes below:

              The Broadcasting Act 1996  made provision for digital terrestrial television broadcasting and contains provisions relating to the award of multiplex licences. It also provided for the introduction of radio multiplex services and regulated digital terrestrial sound broadcasting.

              The next big thing in terms of legislation was the 2003 Communications Act:

              The Communications Act 2003 dissolves the Independent Television Commission, Broadcasting Standards Commission, Radio Authority, Office of Telecommunications (OFTEL) and the Radiocommunications Agency, and replaces these with a new body, the Office of Communications (OFCOM). OFCOM is charged with the regulation of the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services, and with furthering the interests of citizens and consumers in relation to communications matters. The Act also liberalises UK media ownership rules and allows for the formation of a single ITV company, subject to existing competition in merger regulations.

              http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/tv/reports/newnews/
              Ofcom on Public Service Broadcasting and the News

              News is regarded by viewers as the most important of all the PSB genres, and television remains by far the most used source of news for UK citizens. The role of news and information as part of the democratic process is long established, and its status is specifically underpinned in the Communications Act 2003. (Ofcom Report
              Ofcom discussion of the changes within TV in the digital era

              What do all of these digital developments mean for the relative health of the
              main terrestrial TV channels, and indeed for public service broadcasting itself?
              Overall, there appear to be two main conclusions: first, public service broadcasting
              has to be considered in the context of a complex, fragmented multichannel digital
              world, not a simple five channel analogue one. In this digital world, BSkyB
              has established a powerful competitive position. The growth in the number of
              channels and the competition between the different digital platforms has brought
              substantial new revenues into the television sector: for instance, BSkyB's
              subscription revenues now exceed the total amount raised by the BBC licence
              fee.
              The established main terrestrial channels have had to learn to share the
              broadcasting space with an aggressive, successful new entrant.
              (My emphasis: Ofcom Report )

              Webliography for Public Service Broadcasting 

              BBC Question & answer (Q & A) on PSB 

              National Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Public Service Broadcasting (PSB)

              Ofcom ( Office of Communications) Review of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB)

              2002 Speech by Caroline Thompson the Director of Public Policy for the BBC on the future of PSB 

              A useful academically based page summarising the position of some leading British academics such as Graham Murdock:  http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/media/peacock.html

              The NUJ response to the Ofcom review of PWSB 

              Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS): Broadcasting 

              Speech by Tessa Jowell Jan 2007 on the renewal of the BBC Licence fee until 2012 / 13 

              Guardian Report on Second Ofcom review of Public Service Broadcasting  


              January 21, 2007

              Opinion 2

              Moron TV: Big Brother; Commercialism; The Public Service Broadcasting Ethos

              Introduction

              As noted in my Film Opinion One there is no mercy on this blog for crass commercial media products aimed at exploiting populist sentiment which belongs to the lowest common denominator. As Adorno and Horkheimer note in their article on the culture industry:

              something is provided for all that none may escape; the distinctions are emphasized and extended. The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality thus advancing the rule of complete quantification. (Adorno and Horkheimer, p 123).

              Thankfully the denominator when it comes to so-called ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother can’t be described as ‘common’ in the sense of achieving approval from people in Britain. The large numbers of people taking the trouble to make formal complaints about this despicable programme can give all visitors some faith in the notion of the global Public Sphere – of which Web 2.0 is a part-, the question still remains whether this fissure which has opened in the sheer rock face of the culture industry can lead to something constructive. Can popular resistance really break through in a long term meaningful way? Can we get the media we would actually like?

              Normally I avoid links to commercial organisations unless they pay or unless the product is technologically of interest and of good quality. When dealing with media products the policy is that if the content is deemed to be of sufficient quality and relevance as to be justifiable then it can be included.

              As some visitors may have noticed there are links and products from Channel Four News programmes in the section which doubles as a news portal and offers media students the chance to get direct feeds to the better quality news programmes. The extremely dubious nature of Channel Four’s attitude to the whole of the Big Brother furore leads me to consider whether to include C4 links on this site or should it be voted off (by me)?

              The Growth of Celebrity

              At times it seems as though the growth of the discourse of ‘celebrity’ has grown alongside the increasing interest and use of the internet. As interest in user generated content grows so the weakest elements of the mainstream media resort to increasingly desparate survival tactics. (The continous profits squeeze upon the Music company EMI as it announced disappointing results last week is another example of change in the wind).

              The culture of ‘celebrity’ received critical treatment at least as far back as Adorno and Horkheimer:

              As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. It is even stronger than the rigorism of the Hays Office… (Adorno & Horkheimer, p 134).

              Thankfully the totality of the culture industry has turned out not to be quite as homogenous as these Frankfurt School worthies were afraid of, nevertheless, the tendencies they identified all seem to be present in the ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother story.

              The Irony of ‘Reality TV’ finally breaks through into the Real World

              What could be better for the media company concerned than so called ‘reality TV’ than this mockery of the world actually impinging in a serious way upon the real social world.

              Concerns were voiced that the BBC was covering the issue too much, but when a representative came before Newswatch to defend News 24’s coverage it was hard to disagree that a sordid little moron TV show had managed to become in danger of causing a major diplomatic incident and was the cause of concern in Parliamentary questions and debate.

              I must say Ken Livingstone the Mayor of London came close to my thoughts when he argued that the Channel 4 producers had deliberately set up this confrontation to create the maximum degree of attention and controversy. A tactic of last resort as its failing formula and increasing desparation to find people who could be described as celebrity even in its most elastic construction.

              There is little doubt that this programme should sink without trace in a few weeks time. As C4 increasingly turns itself into the worst possible version of what might be described as ‘Tabloid TV’ with psuedo-documentaries and continuous soft-porn style content, it serves to firmly underpin the notion of the importance of Public Service Broadcast TV.

              The formula of Big Brother itself seems to have been invented by an increasingly wealthy ex Public School and Oxbridge character interviewed a few months ago in the Financial Times. That reminds me of Lindsay Anderson’s Oh Dreamland which has a little clip near the beginning of a Rolls Royce Parked behind a 1950s amusement complex. The camera then cuts to large numbers of working class people piling off coaches from London. The film charts their initial joy at having a flight from reality gradually become undermined by the dire quality of the content of the park.

              These Big Brother antics attract the sort of audiences who would like to watch cock-fights, bare-knuckle fighting, bear and badger-baiting. This is the 21st century equivalent.

              The joy of being able to vote somebody out of Big Brother is a mockery of democracy and an insult to the notion of real citizenship. Citizenship becomes spectacle as you pay 50 pence for the privilege of a telephone vote in any case although C4 will doubtless be trumpeting this a a modern form of ‘viewer democracy’ and ‘participative media product’.

              I heard the interview with a senior exectutive from Channel Four at about 6.15 a.m. as he happily criticised the BBC for getting too much license fee and then point-blank refused to make any comment whatsoever about the controversy.

              Well his senior executive pay packet was on the line and hopefully still is. Channel 4’s policy and behaviour this week has been seriously unethical and based purely on commercial greed. The 1990 Broadcasting Act has liberated the airwaves to junk TV. The stonewalling of this Channel 4 executive is the strongest possible argument for raising the license fee for the BBC to try and get this trash off air.

              Bye Bye Channel 4 News – Sorry

              I’m always being surprised that many of the links this site contains go to BBC sites, the trouble is they are so much better than the opposition most of the time. I have no doubts that Channel 4 News is an exception. Right from the first day of Channel 4 I have enjoyed C4 News on a regular basis, and it has always been interesting to compare the content and handling of stories with the BBC who at the end of the day still need to keep a weather eye on the government when it comes to increases in licence fees.

              This raises further issues of media policy about whether the government of the day should have such a direct influence on an institution which we all pay for. Perhaps a more independent body of licence reviewers needs to be established.

              After this I’m contemplating the notion that a separate licensed 24 hour news programme with a level of financial independence perhaps mixed funded partially by advertising and partially by a separate license fee controlled by a fully independent institution from government might be a sensible path. Perhaps the Channel 4 news organisation could be the anchor of this. In the meantime I’m afraid the link is going. I don’t suppose that will make the organisation quake but I hope that visitors to this site will make their views very clear to Channel 4.

              I rather hope that this outburst will prove to be the demise of C4. Those media and cultural theorists who continuously decry the Frankfurt School as being ‘pessimistic’ and ‘elitist’ and underestimating the intelligence of the audience would at least have a practical case study upon which to evidence their claims. I’m am optimistic that Adorno and Horkheimer will be proved right.

              For a moment there is a fissure appearing in the face of the cultural industry: can the popular masses led of course by the willing hordes of media theorists in the political vanguard escape the flight from the wretched reality described by Adorno and Horkheimer and actually develop some real resistance against the cultural industry. If like me you enjoy a regular supply of oxygen you are strongly advised not to hold your breath :-). The latest BBC story on this case reports the Association of Schools and College Leaders representative John Dunford as saying in response to demands from Alan Johnson demanding deeper cultural values in their approach:

              Schools can hardly be blamed for one person’s bigotry when the 82% who voted to eject Jade Goody are testament to the work already being done by schools to develop respect, understanding and tolerance.

              alan Johnson Minister of Education

              This seems to indicate that nearly 20% or to put it another way nearly one in 5 of people who paid 50 pence for the priviledge of voting are effectively racist! No I don’t blame schools I blame the crass greed of people like Channel 4 executives who seek to profit from this sort of ‘controversy’. The production company behind Big Brother are called Endemol. Will they benefit out of this? asks this BBC story

              Endemol seem to be one of these nebulous production companies which have sprung up in the wake of the 1990 Broadcasting Act. Interestingly they also provide the BBC with content such as Ready Steady Cook.
              If you want to know what programmes to boycott or complain about then here is Endemol’s web site.
              Its portfolio seems to fit Adorno’s astute comment of something is provided for all that none may escape remarkably well. Who is a pessimist and who is a realist! Get out there and prove me wrong please.


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