Lords committee calls for PSBs to better reflect UK cultural diversity

Report posits formation of BBC Funding Commission.

PSBs: need greater government support to thrive in streaming era
PSBs: need greater government support to thrive in streaming era

The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee has warned that public-service broadcasters – especially the BBC – need to better reflect UK culture in order to guarantee their survival.

In its Public Service Broadcasting: As Vital As Ever report, the committee warns that PSBs need better support to ensure they can produce high-quality drama and documentaries, but that in turn their content should better reflect the full range of cultural diversity, especially for black, Asian and minority-ethnic people.

The committee acknowledged the growth of "unprecedented competition" from subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. However, it argued, PSBs were failing to appeal to certain groups, particularly 16- to 34-year-olds, who have grown up in a dramatically different media environment to that experienced by previous generations.

"The committee also heard concerning evidence that PSBs are failing to appeal to BAME viewers and that they were not as successful as SVODs in championing BAME representation behind the camera and in the creative process, especially at the BBC," it said.

The report raised questions over the integrity of the current model governing the licence fee and suggested the formation of a new body.

"[The licence fee] has been undermined by a succession of settlements which were carried out behind closed doors," the report said.

"The BBC should not have been offered, or accepted, responsibility for over-75s’ licences. A new, independent and transparent process for setting the licence fee is necessary. The report recommends the establishment of a new body called the BBC Funding Commission to help set the licence fee."

It concluded that PSB "remains essential to the UK media and losing it would leave UK society and democracy worse off".

The report outlined three recommendations to enable PSBs to thrive in the face of competition from streaming services, including an increase in the number of free-to-air sports events and better government regulatory and funding support.

Lord Gilbert, chairman of the committee, said: "For many people, especially young people, watching TV in real time is now the exception rather than the norm. While the arrival of SVODs has created exciting opportunities for the creative sector and for audiences, particularly in drama, we are concerned by the unpredictability of future developments. PSBs provide a stable investment platform for a diverse range of content, made for UK audiences and freely available on a reliable over-the-air platform.

"At a time of polarisation, public-service broadcasters play a role in unifying the country through shared experiences. Our recommendations will ensure that public-service broadcasters are able to continue to serve us and afford to make world-class programmes. If we fail to support our public-service broadcasters, audiences would miss them when they're gone."

The news marks the culmination of the committee’s investigation, which kicked off in March. A full version of the report is available here.