Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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Public broadcaster in existential threat – former ITV chairman

The former ITV chairman said “there is no doubt that the public service broadcasting system faces an existential threat”.

Sir Peter Bazalgette, who has recently stepped down as Chairman of ITV after six years, addressed the Voice of the Listener & Viewer’s Jocelyn Hay Lecture on the future of Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs).

Speaking on the impact international streaming platforms are having on the PSBs – now dubbed Public Service Media or PSM by media regulator Ofcom – Sir Peter, 69, said: “In short how can the PSMs survive in an era, a Post -Network era when their TV services are mostly streamed via foreign internet platforms?

“BBC iPlayer, All4 and the forthcoming ITVX all have to negotiate with the likes of Amazon, Apple, Samsung and LG, as well as Sky and Virgin for promotion.

“These are all powerful foreign-owned platforms that can take a share of PSM revenue and withhold PSM viewership data in the largely unregulated arena of the internet.”

Sir Peter also addressed Prime Minister Liz Truss’ comments on economic growth, which is a priority under her government.

He questioned how PSBs are supposed to deliver and contribute to such economic growth if they are not given a “level playing field” to do so.

“We have been told that economic growth is the top priority of our current administration,” he said.

“Remember what I said earlier about PSM’s core role in the display sub-sector, which is currently growing rapidly.

“So the danger here is not only the loss of cultural value, but also a deficit in economic growth that the PPPs can deliver on a level playing field.”

To stress the importance and need for clear government terms on the future of PSBs, Sir Peter highlighted the difficult decision ITV is currently facing on whether to confirm its position as PSB when its current license expires next year.

He said: “ITV will have to decide whether to apply for a new PSM license next year to start in 2024. A difficult decision when you don’t know the conditions.

“ITV is in a stronger position than most PSMs given its variety of business avenues and partnerships to choose from with its successful international manufacturing business and robust cash flows.

“But you might think it is in UK PLC’s interest to keep ITV in the PSM squad and continue to deliver the public good in which it excels.”

He later added: “It is up to all of us to continue to urge the Government and colleagues at DCMS, who understand this very well, that time is of the essence.”

Sir Peter, who was President of the Royal Television Society between 2010 and 2017, also addressed the ongoing BBC royalty debate, acknowledging “that it is legitimate to question the regressive nature of the royalty”.

However, he brushed aside the main debate and instead asked for “support for a hypothetical funding, not a voluntary contribution”.

He went on to recognize “the guaranteed public funding of an organization whose job it is to hold the government to account” as “the most laudable expression of liberal democracy that I can imagine.”

He added: “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

“And I just think we need to remind our elected elders and higher-ups that there are some really basic philosophical, civil arguments for the BBC that need to be made before you start looking at the granular cuts and thrusts of its funding.”

Sir Peter stepped down from his role as chairman of ITV late last month.

He was also previously Chairman of the Arts Council England and Chief Creative Office of television production company Endemol UK.

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