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Web 2.0 firms lobby for £100m gravy train

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

We asked Ofcom if there wasn't a conflict of interest in giving two new media production companies, who could well directly benefit from the creation of PSP, the job of recommending whether or not it should exist.

It's little surprise that Lilley and Chitty, who have lobbied tirelessly for the creation of the agency (Lilley with the help of his Guardian column) came out in support of the idea. As digital production companies, both Magic Lantern and Illumina Digital will be first in line to benefit from the new flood of public money.

Chitty and Lilley also came up with the modest budget proposal.

"We suggest funding of £50m to £100m annually as a sensible starting-point," wrote Chitty. But this is merely the start.

"However, the PSP's role within the public service system is likely to grow over time, and its initial funding may need to be expanded."

That's a lot of money for what critics charge is "fancy websites" and games.

Ofcom denied the conflict-of-interest charge.

"I wouldn't see them at being at a huge advantage," Bates told us. "When it comes to who will run the PSP, and where the money will come from and where it will go hasn't been decided. We've simply asked these two individuals to ask others how it could be developed."

Special pleading

We asked the key advocates of the new quango why digital media needed its own gatekeeper? Why the web needed preferential treatment over existing media, and why, in the age of YouTube, we needed a gatekeeper at all?

Interactive art and community projects face a variety of options for funding at the moment - and commercial sponsorship isn't hard to find.

According to Ofcom, its policy was not to intervene in the market, however, there were situations where market failure would justify it - and PSP was one of them.

"The market doesn't have the incentive to provide a certain kind of content," said Ofcom's Bates. "The BBC, with its license fee settlement...will provide a cornerstone of public service content and quite rightly so. But our strategic review found that the BBC needs competition in Public Sector Content".

But this jars somewhat with where Lilley sees support emerging:

"It's not about special pleading for creatives," he told us.

He said the PSP idea was winning backing from existing commercial ventures, which could use some help with their websites, such as major media owners.

"Channel 4 now see they could be a beneficiary," said Lilley. "Newspaper groups see they could be in partnerships".

It remains to be seen how popular the idea of underwriting, say, the Daily Express interactive Sudoku will be with the public, who ultimately foot the bill.

So while PSP is sold as a way of "empowering the grassroots", it's a boondoggle for big media. Not surprisingly, the PSP has already drawn fire from technology utopians who perhaps expected something more tuned to the amateur:

"Sadly, it seems the PSP [will be] funding the struggling UK film and TV industry to produce a quota of parochial 'new media projects', the IPR to which they may then exploit worldwide," says the Open Knowledge network's Saul Albert.

Ofcom's taxpayer-funded PSP will differ from other commissioning agencies - such as the Arts Council or the Film Council - in that its aesthetic role appears to be defined by the technology, and little more.

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