Skip to main content

Public Sector Television Content

Volume 793: debated on Thursday 25 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that public sector television content is easily discoverable regardless of how viewers access such content.

My Lords, the Government recognise the value and importance of high-quality public service content and the need for it to be widely accessible to viewers. That is why, in the Digital Economy Act 2017, the Government required Ofcom to publish a report looking at the ease of finding PSB content across all platforms. Ofcom published its first report on the discoverability of PSB content in July and has consulted on proposed changes to the linear EPG code and the future of the prominence regime. The consultation closed on 5 October. We look forward to its findings in due course.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Given Ofcom’s clear support for a legislative update, does the Minister not agree that there is an urgent need to modernise the rules that help to guarantee prominence for PSB linear and associated on-demand services? Global technology players should not be the gatekeepers to what we watch. They have little interest in supporting UK content and culture or ensuring that the news they supply access to is accurate. Unless the Government act, they will bury public service TV.

My Lords, I pretty much agree with that. The Secretary of State said last month that,

“the government will support PSBs to ensure they continue to thrive, and stay prominent, as part of a healthy, sustainable and dynamic media landscape”.

If Ofcom, which is the expert on this, makes it clear that there is a problem that needs fixing by legislation, we will look to bring that forward.

My Lords, I have the same quote from September 2018 in front of me, and I am delighted to hear that the Government are aware of the urgency of this. Three months before that report, Ofcom indicated that legislation would be necessary to achieve the objectives we have all agreed about. Post Brexit, where will such legislation figure in the queue of legislation ganging up on us, in order to do justice to the sense of urgency that has already been accepted?

My Lords, I would like to say that it will have prominence, but obviously I cannot give a guarantee today. Brexit will involve a lot of legislation. The fact is, we understand the urgency, that the media landscape is changing and how technology is changing. The old linear EPG is not fit for purpose. It is not for me to say where it will fit in the legislative programme because that is not my responsibility, but we understand the issues. We are waiting for the Ofcom report following its consultation, which has now finished; I believe it is due early in 2019.

My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance to the tens of thousands of Welsh speakers living in England that the Welsh language channel S4C will be afforded reasonable prominence on the electronic programme guide?

That is likely to be the case, but we are obviously waiting for Ofcom’s report. However, I understand the point, and I think it will have suitable prominence.

I refer to the register of interests. Is the Minster aware that the concerns reflected in the noble Baroness’s Question are shared by many on these Benches as well? Can he send a strong message to Ofcom about the need for speed, given the pace of technological change, which is overtaking us every day? When does he think the Government will be able to announce concrete progress on this road?

I have outlined that things are moving fast. The consultation finishes on 5 October. Ofcom has said it will report at the beginning of 2019. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, alluded to, it is up to the business managers—if Ofcom decides that legislation is necessary; you will have to look at the report. This is a complex area. The new technologies do not make it simple. It is not just like an old, linear EPG. But we understand the urgency and we know that the commercial interests do make it difficult for public service broadcasters. The key is that we support public service broadcasting.

My Lords, we have heard from my noble friend and other noble Lords about the urgent need to change the EPG regulations, but is there not another aspect? The chief executive of Channel 4 has pointed out that there is no regulation at all of so-called smart voice search controls, which are increasingly being introduced by the major television manufacturers. That aspect is barely covered by the Ofcom report. Will the Minister guarantee that it will be covered in any new regulations?

I accept, as I said before, that this is a complex area. We are talking about not only linear, satellite and aggregators, but about TV and videos which are just on the internet. As noble Lords will know, as well as looking at the prominence regime, we are looking at online harms generally. We expect to publish a White Paper on that in the winter.

Should any further evidence be required, was not the powerful support for and huge importance of the five main channels demonstrated by the colossal viewing figures during the World Cup? Some 26.5 million people, 40% of the population, were watching this listed event. It is a long time since the last review. Is it not time for another review of the listed events, which have been steadily eroded over recent decades, because they are hugely important to and popular in the country as a whole, and very unifying, in that people talk about them?

I completely agree about the unifying aspect of these events, and it is worth bearing in mind what the noble Lord has said. We should not be under the illusion that the PSB viewing figures are unimportant. Together, the PSBs command a 55% share of all TV viewing, and they spend £2.6 billion a year on original UK content.