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Ofcom questions BBC licence fee for worthy TV

Launches review, annoys everyone

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Ofcom has launched its long awaited consultation into Public Service Broadcasting - with something to annoy everyone.

The regulator predicts a tough time for commercial broadcasters, which justifies the main policy proposal: forcing the state broadcaster to share its income with private sector rivals.

Even before publication, this was the most contentious part of the review: throwing public money after a disappearing audience. Ofcom notes that viewing for the five main TV channels has declined by 17 per cent since 2003.

In the same time period, spending on what it defines as "public service broadcasting" has fallen by a third (£130m), and Ofcom predicts it will have fallen by two thirds by 2012.

Several funding alternatives for private broadcasters are discussed - giving them the proceeds of spectrum auctions, new direct taxes, divvying up the license fee, imposing "industry levies", and/or allowing them to make more from advertising.

Broadcasters are already divided in how to respond. Some (eg, Channel 4) dearly want a slice of taxpayers license-payers' money. Others (eg, ITV) want the PSB obligations lifted altogether - so they can compete with BSkyB, which doesn't have any. Ofcom sees the crunch coming quickest, and hardest, for children's and regional programming.

Although Ofcom says one of the main justifications for the review is the desire to retain "plurality", it doesn't examine the option of giving grants to anyone but the existing gatekeepers.

The regulator also had a look at "public service" web content. If you're wondering what such a thing may be, wonder no more.

Ofcom asked consultancy MTM London to define it. MTM, in turn consulted "expert blogs" who provide "coverage of individual sectors and of the internet as a whole (TechCrunch, Mashable, Read/Write Web, etc.)", and they came up with the following examples:

  • News and Information: BoingBoing and RealClimate.
  • Commercial products: TED.
  • Communities: The Richard Dawkins Foundation.

There's plurality for you. ®

Related link

The Ofcom Public Service Broadcasting Review

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