VLV Autumn Conference
Wednesday 24th November 2021
VLV’s annual Autumn Conference took place on the morning of Wednesday 24th November online at a time of considerable uncertainty for broadcasters in the UK. The BBC funding settlement for 2022-2027 is yet to be announced, the government is still considering privatisation of Channel 4 and is due to publish a Media White Paper which we hope will put in place better support for the public service broadcasting system.
We were delighted to have Richard Sharp, Chairman of the BBC, and Maggie Carver CBE, interim Chair of Ofcom, as our keynote speakers. Their sessions were chaired by Janine Gibson and Stewart Purvis CBE respectively.
You can read the biographies of all our speakers and chairs here.
Session 1 - Richard Sharp, Chairman of the BBC
Richard Sharp said that he believed that the case for a well-funded, modern and efficient national broadcaster has become more urgent in the past decade. He said that societies worldwide are ‘running a severe truth deficit’. He focused on the importance of trustworthy news in a competitive market which is often dominated by extreme viewpoints because of the need to attract audiences. He also highlighted the risk of us occupying ‘echo chambers’ because of social media, where we are only exposed to the news we want to read. The digital environment is making people reluctant to express their true opinions, he said. The BBC has a crucial role to play in this environment, ‘realising the full potential of the BBC to be a global force for truth and democracy and a powerful ambassador for Britain around the world’.
Richard Sharp’s full speech can be found here.
You can view the video of Richard Sharp’s session here.
Session 2 - Maggie Carver CBE, Interim Chair of Ofcom
Maggie Carver’s speech was wide-ranging, as is Ofcom’s remit. She highlighted that the broadcasting industry had been disrupted by the pandemic but public service broadcasting has provided essential services during the past 18 months for UK audiences. Reliable journalism which provides clarity, different viewpoints and informs them about the world is crucial. She said tomorrow’s adults will watch less TV than current generations since there is so much choice now on online platforms. This poses broadcasters with a financial challenge. She said that Ofcom is working with other UK regulators to ensure the best outcome for citizens as technology develops. She also stressed the importance of providing support to the public service broadcasters to ensure they are able to flourish in the future.
In terms of regulation, she stressed that it is crucial that citizens trust both media outlets and their regulator. She explained the responsibilities of the Ofcom board, which she chairs, and stressed that they hold their independence ‘dear’. They expect to be accountable to the British people and should be judged on their effectiveness as a regulator. The board does not get involved in content standards’ decisions; instead they rely on Ofcom specialist teams to do that. They provide independent challenge to Ofcom’s work and support the executive. Her third main point was about the importance of Freeview which 18 million homes depend on in the UK.
You can view the video of Maggie Carver’s session here.
Session 3 - Panel on Listed Events regulation
Our third session focused on the listed events regime which is designed to ensure that events of national interest are made widely available to the public. There has been no change to the regulations since 1998 despite the fact that we have experienced a revolution in digital technology. The next bidding rounds for the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and the Euros will begin early in 2022 and there is an opportunity to update legislation in the government’s upcoming Media Bill so this discussion was very timely. Reforms could include updating the law so that the regime applies to online/digital rights, women’s sport and that how ‘qualifying’ free to air broadcasters are defined.
Barbara Slater, Director of Sport at the BBC, Jack Genovese, who leads Ampere Analysis’ sports research and John Grogan, former MP for Keighley who submitted a number of Early Day Motions during his time in Parliament about Listed Events, were our panellists. This session was chaired by journalist Raymond Snoddy OBE.
You can view the session on listed events here.
Jack Genovese opened the session with a presentation setting out the existing Listed Events Regime rules. You can download his slides here. He also provided data from Ampere Analysis research about the state of the broadcasting market in the UK. This shows that the listed events regime does help ensure that some of the most popular events are available on free to air TV, although the most popular sporting event, the Premier League, is not on a free to air platform. The data also showed that willingness to pay to watch sports content is influenced by whether sports are available to view free. Those which are free to view currently are very popular but attract a lower willingness to pay, perhaps because audiences expect to be able to watch them free. In response to a question from Ray, Jack said the government believes the current regime strikes the correct balance between the need for access to these popular events and the commercial freedom that rights’ holders have to grow their revenues. It’s striking however that nothing has changed in the past 20 years and a review might be warranted. He stressed that brand awareness is very high on free to air platforms, so that maintains the interest of sports rights’ holders in negotiating with them.
Barbara Slater said that the listed events regime was of huge importance to audiences. The first thing which needs to be updated, in her view, is the qualifying criteria for free to air platforms. She suggested it could simply be based on proven reach, i.e. those broadcasters which have the mission to achieve the widest reach, the public service broadcasters. The other aspect of regulation which needs to be updated is digital access which isn’t guaranteed under the existing rules. Younger audiences increasingly are accessing content using catch-up services and it is important that digital rights are included in the legislation. Finally, Barbara stressed that the regime needs to include women’s sport, which it doesn’t currently, even though women’s sporting events are very popular with audiences.
John Grogan agreed that it’s time we had more women’s sport on TV and said that the women’s World Cup should be a listed event. He said, the danger is that as women’s sport becomes more popular and the rights are bought by a pay-TV platform, then audiences won’t be able to watch it. He highlighted that the interest of the nations is also important and they should all be protected and treated equally; he pointed out that you could have grown up in Scotland and never seen your national football team on TV and that rugby in Wales is a key issue. He believes this issue has all the hallmarks of what interests politicians – the role of women in society, digital rights and access to big events. He said we need politicians to be interested in this issue.