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What is the future of public service broadcasting?

Over ten years ago the proposed one-stop shop for UK TV VOD (aka Kangaroo) that would provide viewers with the opportunity to catch-up on their favourite TV shows grounded to a halt.

Project Kangaroo was to create a common website of UK TV content accessible on demand to consumers at the retail and wholesale levels.

At the time, the venture was a risk deemed too high in restricting competition in the supply of VOD services. Accessibility would become the key barrier in the negotiation conducted by UK’s Competition Commission in that it was perceived consumers would have a limited number of options for viewing UK TV content.

The UK’s Competition Commission proved the venture would have undue influence on the parties’ commercial decisions and should be blocked.

Looking ahead prominence may yet be considered crucial for PSBs when ensuring the widest availability predicated on media consumption needs and in securing access to programming for the British public.

There are ways to collaborate that would serve us well in the future if we are to ensure prominence is achieved across all demographic groups and in particular if younger audiences are to have an awareness of the PSB channel content available to them. 

During the Westminster Media Forum on The future for free-to-air in the UK- discoverability, investment and competition, David Cockram, Principal, Strategy & Policy, Ofcom told the audience: “Ofcom is doing what it can to encourage broadcasters to make their programmes in many different parts of the UK and for programmes to reflect the full diversity of our society and life around the UK.”

He also said: “Today digital terrestrial television is still used by a whopping 19 million homes and is the main way that broadcast television is viewed in around 40% of all homes.”

It is evident PSB channels continue to fulfil the role in delivering choice for viewers but what I would question here is how much choice particularly as 15% of viewing time is spent looking for something to watch according to research from Freeview.

Securing PSB prominence requires intervention as the current rules only apply to prominence of PSB channels on the linear EPG.

Ofcom is undertaking a review of the EPG following new provisions in the 2017 Digital Economy Act.

John McVay, Chief Executive, Pact reminded the audience: “So any discussion about amending the EPG prominence, will undoubtedly have an impact for the rest of the ecology, and we do need to understand it. We also have to be careful, and I would say this, is that the EPG prominence issues don’t end up as a land grab that reduces investment in British creativity and opportunity.”

PSBs are already required to work together to compete and will continue to do so to meet the challenges posed by the global nature of competition. Fragmentation already impacts current partnerships with global players. A flexible approach to competition based on the thinking that viewers would benefit from better VOD sessions if BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4 compete with each other and the joint British TV streaming service have been given added impetus. 

Magnus Brooke, Director, Policy and Regulatory Affairs, ITV responded to my comment during the Westminster Media Forum on the new British TV streaming service and told the audience: “But the thing I would like to comment on, I think, is the incredible missed opportunity from Kangaroo.

I think we need to keep that in our minds as we go forwards, because everything that we said to the Competition Commission, as it was then has happened, and it’s happened faster and in a more intense way than we predicted.”

Today, if PSBs are to exploit the array of distribution channels to enable audience engagement more broadly, they would need to consider commercial opportunities more so around increased personalisation. Currently, even Netflix powerful recommendation algorithm is no longer quite as powerful since people dip in and out to watch the shows on their binge lists.

Offering consumers more context around their choices not dictated by constraining categories that no longer fit their usage patterns is the next big challenge.  This begs the question: Do we update the rules to ensure PSBs are discoverable?

Teresa Potocka is CEO & Founder of Sensethefuture Pictures, part of The Potocki Communications Company

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