Broadcasting white paper targets the streaming age

The government has today launched its white paper on broadcasting with a focus on making the UK’s public service broadcasting system fit for the digital age.

The white paper contains proposals to simplify what it means to be a Public Service Broadcaster (PSB).  The focus will now be on creating ‘distinctive shows’ which reflect British culture, support domestic film and TV production, and provide impartial and accurate news.  PSBs will now be given greater freedom and flexibility in how they can fulfil their public service obligations, with their ability to meet those obligations now capable of being assessed in terms of what they show on their online channels.

The strategy comes as statistics from Ofcom show that the share of traditional TV viewing fell by 10% between 2017 and 2020, at the same time as the share for subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video rose from six per cent to 19 per cent.


The white paper also includes plans to protect audiences of Video on Demand services from harmful material (such as false health claims).  The Video on Demand code is set to be updated in a way that reflects the Broadcasting Code, and will be enforced by Ofcom.  Maximum fines will now rise to £250,000.

Commenting on the white paper, culture secretary, Nadine Dorries said, “Set against the backdrop of the digital transformation of our viewing habits, today’s plans will revamp decades-old laws to help our public service broadcasters compete in the internet age and usher in a new golden age for British TV and radio. This will provide jobs and growth in the future along with the content we all love”.

Responding to the white paper, the Chairman of the House of Commons culture select committee, Julian Knight, has called for the government to extend the protection given to so called ‘crown jewel’ sporting events to digital and on-demand content.  Mr Knight said, “There is also now a perfect opportunity to expand the list of protected events to include more long-established centre pieces of our national sporting heritage, such as the Six Nations Rugby Championship”.

As part of the white paper, the government remains committed to move Channel 4 out of public ownership.  Under the plans, Channel 4 will also be free to produce and sell its own content for the first time, thereby allowing it to diversify its revenue streams.