BBC and Channel 4 join forces for Public Service Broadcasting Parliament initiative
Hello everyone, and welcome. Thank you for coming.
I think it’s fairly unprecedented for Channel 4 and the BBC to join together like this – a joint event – with cake… literally anything could happen.
One thing I’m confident about is that we’ll talk about something both organisations feel strongly about and where we would like your help.
We’re here to talk about what I believe is the single biggest thing we need to do to safeguard British public service television for the future.
Before I came to Channel 4 I ran a TV production company called Shine and then after that a global technology company called Foundry.
Back then I felt pretty strongly that British Public Service Broadcasting is one of the crown jewels of our country. Seven months at Channel 4 and I’m even more convinced.
PSB provides British audiences with world leading quality and range of content – made specifically for us as British citizens.
And it supports our creative industries to achieve global success, every year guaranteeing billions of pounds of investment into content made by companies based here in the UK.
A couple of weeks ago I laid out my vision for C4.
It’s based on three main areas – supercharging our impact with young people, accelerating digital, and making our Channel 4 culture more diverse and inclusive. All of these aims chime with the remit we have been set by you as Parliament.
We deliver that remit through our, content – Channel 4 News, the Paralympics, Derry Girls, Ackley Bridge and the hundreds of other shows.
Our broadcasting ecosystem has been carefully designed to ensure that everyone should have access to a range of high quality, British made content, and that audiences can find it easily.
And with our world increasingly characterised by the erosion of democratic values and by social division we are seeing that Fake News, the Echo chambers and so called filter bubbles are able to proliferate and thrive.
Our Public Service Broadcasters – the BBC, C4 and others – are the counter balance to all these issues. Our Channel 4 News expose of Cambridge Analytica is just one example of the role we play in holding big corporations to account.
It is clear that audiences still want access to the kind of high quality content that reflects our lives and our British democratic values. Ofcom has found that PSBs have an incredibly high and rising satisfaction rate with audiences – their most recent audience research found that 78% of viewers said they were very or quite satisfied with public service broadcasting
However, content is increasingly being watched beyond the traditional TV set – through streaming services like Netflix or Amazon, via Smart TVs, plug in streaming sticks and on tablets, phones and games consoles.
We’re living in a time of unprecedented choice, and watching more TV content than ever before. But this is happening in ever more complex and varied ways, especially amongst young people.
Despite these massive changes in technology, across the UK young people (16 -24s) are still watching nearly 2 hours of broadcast TV a day.
But in the UK by 2020 the majority of all video viewing by people under 35 will be on demand.
As the landscape changes, the way people find content and shows is also changing. Our old ways of thinking about people making choices through the prism of TV listings and Electronic Programming Guides or EPGs have already changed hugely – and will only continue to do so.
A third of UK households now subscribe to services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. There is now huge growth in new devices for accessing content – And I’m not talking about Tablets and Phones - The percentage of households with a connected TV, including streaming sticks and consoles, has risen from 30% in 2012 to 77% in 2017. In fact the biggest growing sector has been through the use of streaming sticks to watch content on big, high quality TV sets, not on tablets or on mobile phones. The share of TV streams from streaming sticks has risen from 2% to 15% in the past 3 years. But the rules designed by Parliament which ensure we can easily find PSB content don’t apply in any of these environments.
Personal recommendations and commercial, paid for relationships are driving viewing choices on these services.
For example, when you plug a streaming stick in to a TV, what gets promoted is what the manufacturer wants to push to you. Of course many of the providers of these streaming sticks or set top boxes also provide their own content offerings – which of course come front and centre. This is all unregulated with no proviso for PSB at all.
When you turn on a Smart TV the device is entirely geared towards operating through its own user interface and hub. The positions on those screens are governed by the auction of spots and by negotiation with the manufacturers.
This means that British viewers are directed to content through the user interface of the device manufacturer not through the EPG that Parliament has so carefully legislated around, and that Ofcom has powers to regulate. None of these devices are regulated for prominence – and we are facing the prospect of a new generation of viewers who will be unable to find PSB content as they go to watch TV.
So serious a problem is this that I now have the distinct pleasure of presenting to you what I believe is a world first: a BBC-Channel 4 co-production - a short film which we hope helps bring these issues to life.
I think the most powerful thing in that video is the news clip. If you search using voice on your Amazon Alexa, or on your iPhone using Siri or even using voice search on your Sky Q remote control and you search for “news headlines” - then whose news comes to you? Which news gets promoted to you first? Is it the BBC, is it Channel 4, or is it Russia Today? Or is it a click bait fake news farm? The truth is it’s completely up to whoever owns that platform and they’re free to sell that spot off to the highest bidder.
That could have huge ramifications for our democracy if left unchecked. We need to think through carefully who are approved and verified news providers in these environments – with PSB chief amongst them given our duties for quality, research and impartiality.
We have to ask ourselves - if we still think Public Service Broadcasting is important - is reaching British audiences with content that reflects their lives, their culture, their experiences something that is worth doing?
Well, in an era of Fake News and homogenised algorithmically generated content I would argue that it has never been more important.
Many years ago Parliament had the foresight to put in place policies to ensure that audiences could find public service content easily. But those rules now need to be updated urgently.
I’m afraid we’re really not in a position to just continue on, doing the best we can with what we have. There’s too much at stake here.
The good news is our colleagues at Ofcom are in the midst of a review of this very topic. And the Culture Secretary has said to Parliament that if the case for change is made the Government would be prepared to legislate on this issue. Clearly we think they should – and if you think they should, you should tell them.
We will be asking Government and Ofcom to ensure that for any device (Set Top Box, streaming stick, smart TV, games console) that is sold in the UK that in the first page of the User Interface that you use to get to TV content, be it live or on demand, the PSB players have a protected prominent position.
What we need is your support to ensure that we don’t just stand idly by as our country is divided – we need to retain our impartial PSB strength, act now to ensure the citizens of this country have access to content which reflects their lives, our communities and provides a trustworthy alternative when faced with issues like fake news.
The way we do that best is by promoting our Public Service Broadcasters.
June 12, 2018 11:25am by Channel 4