Public service broadcasting or PSB is formally the collective output of a set of specified television services designed to meet purposes and objectives set by Parliament. The services that are currently defined as PSB are the BBC’s television channels, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C, and Channel 5.
PSB been a central feature of the UK’s cultural landscape for several decades. It is designed to deliver a broad range of distinctive, high-quality TV programmes intended to speak to – and reflect – the diverse communities, regions and nations of the UK. PSB serves to provide shared experiences of drama, entertainment and learning, and has been a central aspect of broadcasting innovation and investment, helping to underpin the UK’s wider creative economy.
To date, the PSB system has been based on what might be described as a ‘compact’. In return for certain benefits, the broadcasters that deliver PSB services are required to provide a range of programmes made in and for the people of the UK. This programming should meet a wide variety of needs and interests. And through news and current affairs programming it should also help to increase our understanding of the world.
Other services may make and show content which also deliver many of these things and which are highly valued by audiences. But there is no obligation for them to meet the purposes and objectives of PSB set out in legislation.
In our Future of Public Service Media (PDF, 145.7 KB) document, published last year, we also set out our view that, although PSB programming remained popular with audiences, public service broadcasting was now at a crucial juncture.
We noted that since our last full review of PSB in 2015, competition to UK PSB has increased, with companies like Netflix and Amazon now reaching many millions of subscribers. At the same time, the rapid take-up of smart TVs, smartphones and tablets has allowed viewers to access both programmes as well as other types of media content from an ever-greater range of providers.
In an environment whether audiences have increased choice in what they watch, how they watch it and when they do so, we considered it was time for a broad appraisal of the PSB system to ensure that the purposes and objectives set out in legislation can continue to be met.
The aim of Small Screen: Big Debate is to facilitate a series of discussions with broadcasters, production companies, government, parliament, industry bodies and national and regional representatives, and others, on the future of public service media with a view to making recommendations to Government.
Audiences are at the heart of our work and we want to understand what different groups might want and expect from PSB. To complement existing research, we have commissioned additional market research and analysis. We want to look at what all audiences might value, but with a particular focus on those aged 16-24. We will look at how the differences within the age group’s life stages, content preferences and habits relate to the type of content they value and what they want from PSB now and in the future.
We are already meeting broadcasters and other interested parties through a series of panel and roundtable events across the UK and are planning further engagement throughout the year.
This website gathers views from everyone who is willing to contribute to the debate. The site also contain more information about Small Screen: Big Debate, including links to both Ofcom and other relevant external research and papers, and will allow people to view clips from previous events.
In May, we will host an industry conference where we will debate the future of PSB. This, together with our research and analysis, which we will pull together to inform our formal consultation in the summer. We will then provide our recommendations to government towards the end of the year.