Media regulator Ofcom has published the terms of reference for its second review of public service broadcasting (PSB). Ofcom said the review, which will last more than a year, would "examine the extent to which the public purposes of PSB are being met and assess options for maintaining and strengthening the quality of PSB in future". Ofcom's first review concluded in 2005 that there was continued demand for PSB, but warned that commercially funded PSB channels would not survive the transition to digital-only broadcasting unchanged.
Ofcom said that since the first PSB review the media landscape had rapidly evolved, with eight in 10 viewers now receiving multichannel television, an increase of 17% over the period. While that brought more choice for viewers, it meant smaller audiences for broadcasters, with the combined share of the five terrestrial public service channels falling 10% between 2001 and 2005, and shrinking by a further 3.6% in 2006 alone.
"In children's programmes, the trend is even more stark: the public service broadcasters' share for 4-15 year olds has fallen from 64.5% in 2002 to 45.8% in 2006," said Ofcom. At the same time, 16-24 year olds were watching less terrestrial television than ever before (down from 74.3% of their viewing in 2001 to 55% in 2006). "They are increasingly turning to other platforms such as the internet," said Ofcom.
Ofcom's second PSB review will look in detail at Channel 4's future funding, as well as the future of news and children's television, and consider the period through to the completion of digital switchover in 2012 and immediately afterwards. The review will also look at non-traditional audio-visual services offered by the existing public service broadcasters on other platforms, as well as the prospects for other broadcasters and online producers to deliver content that meets public purposes.
The first phase of the review will start in the spring of 2008 with a consultation on the issues facing PSBs. Ofcom will outline policy options in the autumn, then publish a final statement in early 2009.
Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: "Public service broadcasting still has an important role to play and the review will help maintain and strengthen its quality in the new market conditions. However, the way PSB is delivered and consumed is changing radically. The potential for new services to deliver public service content beyond traditional television is already here, and should be exploited."
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