Ofcom launches PSP consultation

MUMBAI: UK media watchdog Ofcom has launched its planned consultation to consider the option of an online public service publisher (PSP).

If given the go ahead, the service would compete with the online operations of Channel 4 and the BBC. The idea was muted by the regulator back in 2004.

Ofcom notes that although public service content will be provided by the market, it may well not be enough either in terms of quantity or diversity – a market shortfall is likely to arise. This may have adverse implications for the level of UK-originated production, and for plurality in the public service system – the BBC is likely to play a material role in the digital media world of the future, but for a public service culture to flourish, effective competition for quality is needed.

Ofcom states, " We are open-minded about the best solution for the future of public service content – we will not report again on the how to maintain and strengthen the quality of Public Sservice Broadcasting (PSB) until the next PSB Review, which must be completed no later than 2009/10.

"The primary purpose of this paper is to take the debate forward within the UK’s creative industries and policy environment. We continue to believe that there is a real opportunity for a new PSP to make a significant contribution to the public service system, and to create a lasting legacy for the future.

" We welcome the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s interest in the PSP concept in its inquiry into public service media content."

Ofcom has given 23 March 2007 as the last date for obtaining feedback. It is actively seeking responses on:

- The appropriate nature of intervention in the digital media age, and the balance between TV and non-TV forms of public service content distribution

- The potential role of the PSP and its creative remit

- The operating model – in particular, the approach to rights management

- The scale of funding required. Ofcom notes that the future of PSB in UK television is central to its remit. Its first statutory review of PSB was completed in 2005 and set out recommendations for maintaining and strengthening the quality of PSB against a backdrop of rapid change in broadcasting. The television market has continued to evolve at speed since the review, as a result of which it published Digital PSB in July 2006.

Digital PSB highlighted a number of market developments affecting the future of public service broadcasting. One of these is that the rapid take-up of digital television is reducing the viewing share of the traditional public service broadcasters, and hence the value of the analogue spectrum

Viewers – especially younger audiences – are increasingly watching content on internet and mobile platforms, and are starting to move away from traditional TV. Changes in spectrum policy will affect the way in which public service aims need to be financed in the future.

In Ofcom's view, these changes mean that the delivery of PSB in a fully digital television world needs to be rethought. While the core public purposes endure, the means of delivery and institutional framework may have to change. As a result, the challenge is to define the appropriate model for PSB for the future, not for the world as it is today – or as it has been in the past. The challenge is as much an opportunity for public service broadcasting as it is a threat to it.

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