Our key point: BBC content must be easily available whatever device or mechanism is used to access it, now and for the future
Save Our BBC understands that the Digital Economy Bill provides the only likely opportunity in the near future to update broadcasting legislation to ensure Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) content, including that broadcast by the BBC, continues to be easily located by, and accessible to, the widest possible audience.
Our independent Inquiry (http://saveourbbc.net/inquiry/ ) earlier this year unequivocally concluded that the licence fee payers, audiences and users of BBC services and the public fully expect the BBC to continue to be accountable to them as a major stakeholder. As such, one of their expectations is that they will be able to access all of the BBC’s content and outputs when convenient, so often on demand, on the devices and using the mechanisms of their choice.
The limitations of the 2003 Communications Act are now apparent in that they were too narrow and prescriptive and did not allow for the unprecedented speed of technical development since then. So it is timely that this opportunity arises to put some of this right.
Therefore, we take leave to beg that you give your support to the newly proposed clause NC17 on PROMINENCE (See Below). This will update the present system to ensure that it covers on demand services such as catch-up TV and also connected TV on-demand menus. These are increasingly the way in which the public, especially younger audiences, access public service content. It would add services like BBC iPlayer to the list of those to be given prominence. The BBC’s on demand services also provide a platform for S4C and BBC Alba, as well as TV channels such as BBC One and BBC Two.
Save Our BBC argues that it is vital that licence fee payers, audiences, service users and the public can easily find and access all BBC content, including services such as BBC One, BBC Alba, and CBeebies, regardless of the platform they use.
At present, the Communications Act 2003 gives Ofcom a duty to ensure PSB content receives “appropriate prominence” on TV platforms. The intention in 2003 was that PSB programming should be easy to find on EPGs (electronic programme guides) and given priority in the ordering of TV channels.
As a result of the inadequacies of the present, limited and prescriptive regime, requiring only “appropriate prominence”, has led, for example, to CBBC and CBeebies being placed below 12 US cartoon networks in the channel listings of the UK’s leading pay TV platform.
This goes exactly counter to the intentions in 2003 that indigenous UK programmes, which forge, maintain and support UK citizenship and the Common Good, should have priority and be the easiest to find and most accessible. Today, it is much too difficult for parents to find original British programmes for children that reflect their lives and culture.
The problem is even worse on connected TVs. Here on-demand programme services such as BBC iPlayer are not covered by the existing prominence rules, and scandalously the requirement to give “appropriate prominence” to PSB channels is increasingly being bypassed. On devices such as Sky Q, while BBC One may be the first channel listed on the TV guide, the guide itself is now in a far less prominent position on-screen than Sky’s own top picks, box sets or movies. You have to turn the TV guide on and then it takes 8 clicks to get to BBC One, over 20 clicks to get to CBeebies, and over 15 to get to BBC Alba.
Throughout the development of the proposed new BBC Royal Charter and Operating Agreement, Save Our BBC has advocated most strongly the needs for much greater broadcasting for and by the Nations and Regions and for significant advances for diversity. Therefore, we are especially concerned that this particular problem badly affects the indigenous language services in the Nations as prominence has been very important to their success and impact. Ofcom recommended a modernisation of the regime to cover on-demand players and portals in their Public Service Broadcasting Review 2015 and MG Alba and S4C agree:
S4C has stated its support for prominence for PSB apps and says “The extension of the PSB prominence principle to include the PSBs’ on-demand players is of great and growing importance. Its significance is not only for the future of public service media content and how it is consumed by the public, but it is also particularly vital for the availability of Welsh language content as S4C is the only Welsh language PSB available – serving Welsh speakers throughout the UK.”
MG ALBA says: “We believe that the EPG prominence provisions ought to be extended to non-linear platforms, including internet TV interfaces provided by manufacturers of smart TVs, so as to enhance discoverability of PSB content” … “We believe that in allocating EPG positions it is essential that publicly funded PSB content should be discoverable in order to create the best possible public value from the public investment.”
Please support this new clause by saying so in Committee and/or add your signature by emailing the committee clerk, Marek Kubala (firstname.lastname@example.org)
NC 17 “PSB prominence
(1) The Communications Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) At the end of section 310(1) add “that satisfy the qualification criteria to be set by OFCOM in the code.”
(3) In section 310(2) leave out “OFCOM consider appropriate” and insert “required by OFCOM”.
(4) In section 310(4)(a) after “programmes” insert “, including on-demand programme services,”.
(5) In section 310(5)(a) after “service” insert “, including on-demand programme service,”.
(6) In section 310(8)(a) after “services” insert “, including on-demand programme services,”.
(7) In section 310(8)(b) after “services” insert “, including on-demand programme services.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This new clause would modernise the PSB prominence regime – as recommended by Ofcom in its
2015 PSB Review. Provisions in the Communications Act 2003 currently only apply to traditional
public service TV channels on traditional TV channel menus (‘EPGs’). This proposal would extend
the law to on-demand services such as catch-up TV and to the connected TV on-demand menus
where such services are found.
Save Our BBC is the only single issue independent national campaign group for the BBC’s audiences and service users, licence fee payers, voters, the UK public. Our aim is to reflect the popularity of the BBC: 97% of the UK population uses the BBC for an average of just over 18 hours per week; RAJAR, BARB and user data show the large audiences and numbers of users for all BBC programmes, content and services which add up to show the popularity of the BBC as a whole. The audiences and users of the BBC want it to survive and thrive as an independent public service broadcaster which informs, educates and entertains.
We hope you find this helpful. Unfortunately, I am abroad and so am unable to attend the House for this session of your Committee. However, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have or provide any further information you may require by correspondence should you so wish.