techUK view on the Ofcom broadcaster prominence consultation

Ofcom has published a consultation on potential reforms to how public service broadcasters (PSBs) are presented within different TV electronic programming guides (EPGs). The PSBs (defined as the BBC, ITV, Channels 4 and 5 plus regional versions like STV and S4C) currently enjoy prominent spots on linear EPGs such as Freeview, Freesat, YouView and Sky, but the rules are quite old now and did not factor in the rise of online content and smart-TVs.

The review was mandated by Parliament in the Digital Economy Act, which requires Ofcom to look at how public service broadcaster prominence is working in the online age. The consultation is good news for PSBs who have concerns around the loss of audience share to online content providers such as Netflix and Amazon, and indeed the PSBs have a point. Live broadcast still accounts for the majority of all viewing (58%) but among the 16 - 34 year olds this falls dramatically, as seen in the Media Nations report published earlier this month. This decrease has made PSBs want to ensure they and their online services get prominent positions across different online platforms and smart-TV user interfaces.

Most of the review is aimed at the linear EPG licencees, though Ofcom are seeking information on the impact of online platforms and the specific issue of prominence within smart-TV interfaces is addressed in an open question (question 18). Although Ofcom does not offer any specific proposals it does discuss extending the licence to cover smart-TV UIs, online platforms and streaming sticks/boxes.

techUK does not support solutions that restrict the opportunity for smart-TV manufacturers to customise and develop their own User Interfaces (UIs). Televisions aren’t ‘dumb’ sets anymore, they have very advanced software and UIs and are increasingly part of a manufacturer’s broader AV offering. TV sets now incorporate features like artificial intelligence, metadata and voice control as standard, so cannot be constrained by one market’s inflexible requirements. If so it will be consumers who lose out.

Furthermore, TV manufacturers have global arrangements with content providers such as Netflix and Amazon and these help manufacturers stand out from the crowd and give consumers the access to content and services that they demand. If the UK imposed prominence requirements for PSB online services, this may make such partnerships less viable.

It is also important to note that it is very unlikely that PSB services would ever be hard to find in smart-TV interfaces as PSB on-demand services are hugely popular with audiences. No smart-TV manufacturer would ever make highly valued and trusted services like iPlayer and the ITV Hub difficult to find as they are loved by viewers. What manufacturers do want however is the flexibility to control their own devices, intellectual property and innovations to serve their customers. 

techUK will be responding to the consultation, which ends on 5 October. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute to our response. 

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