Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 6:45 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Low, and to support Amendment 226A, relating to public sector broadcasting prominence, about which I spoke during the Second Reading debate. This Bill presents an excellent opportunity to update prominence rules so that they work as they should in our digital world. Given the amenable response from the Minister on earlier amendments, I hope there will be an equally forthcoming response on this one.

The current legislation, from 2003, places a requirement for PSBs to have appropriate prominence to ensure that the flagship PSB channels, such as BBC1 and BBC2, are prominent on electronic programming guides. However, as I raised at Second Reading, the BBC’s children’s channels, referred to earlier, do not enjoy this prominence and sit below 12 commercial children’s channels on some electronic programming guides. As a former member of the S4C Authority, I know from experience that this is a particular issue for both S4C and BBC Alba. S4C is a vital service for hundreds of thousands of people in Wales who speak Welsh and who want to be able to watch programmes in their own language. This content must be easily available on electronic programming guides and—as I will touch on in a moment—on demand. I believe, quite simply, that PSB content must be prominent, whether it is “Y Gwyll”—an excellent Welsh detective drama series known outside Wales as “Hinterland”, which has been sold to almost 200 countries and shows what it is possible to achieve—or great children’s dramas such as “Wizards vs Aliens”, filmed at Roath Lock in Cardiff.

Perhaps a more recent issue, but nevertheless one which must also be tackled, is the need to modernise prominence rules to ensure that they cover on-demand services, such as catch-up TV and connected TV on-demand menus. As I raised at Second Reading, young people in particular are increasingly watching public service content this way and spending less time watching linear TV. At the same time, finding the iPlayer on connected and smart TVs is getting to be a longer and more arduous process, making it harder to watch programmes—including S4C. I am told that there are more than 100,000 requests for S4C programmes on iPlayer every week, showing just how popular this content is.

Both S4C and MG Alba have stated their support for extending prominence to cover on-demand and catch-up TV. They have issued a statement which I should like to quote:

“The extension of the PSB prominence principle to include the PSBs’ on-demand players is of great and growing importance. Its significance is not only for the future of public service media content and how it is consumed by the public, but it is also particularly vital for the availability of Welsh language content as S4C is the only Welsh language PSB available—serving Welsh speakers throughout the UK”.

It also has a considerable following in parts of the UK outside Wales.

Although this is certainly an incredibly technical area of legislation, I see it as another simple problem with a straightforward solution. Had smart TVs and the iPlayer been common when the original legislation was devised, I have no doubt that they would have been included at that stage. We now have an opportunity to do something about this and I hope that the Government will take it.

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