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September 25, 2008
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 (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)
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)
Independent report from April 2008: Public service broadcasting must reform to survive, says watchdog