Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Viscount Colville of Culross Viscount Colville of Culross Crossbench 6:45 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I support Amendment 226A. This is an important attempt to future-proof the prominence of PSB channels on electronic programming guides, which is essential if we are going to bring younger audiences to PSB output. As Sharon White, the chief executive of Ofcom, said:

“Public service broadcasting continues to deliver TV that is enjoyed and valued by millions of viewers across the UK.

More people are watching online or on demand, and this presents challenges as well as opportunities for public service broadcasters. They must continue to find new ways of connecting with audiences, and the PSB system needs to evolve to ensure it remains effective in the digital age”.

The prominence of PSB online services has to be safeguarded in the face of what I see as a determined effort by commercial rivals and some manufacturers to downgrade them. These services need to be easily accessible to viewers and, as many other noble Lords have said, they are not covered by the Communications Act.

I draw your Lordships’ attention to two services provided by the BBC online which show how important it is that they should have prominence on any EPG in the future. BBC iPlayer has been an astonishing success, especially for younger viewers and listeners. In June 2016, there were 290 million requests for radio and television programmes to be downloaded—a 9% increase from the previous year. I know, from when I worked on “Horizon”, the BBC science strand, that the overnight ratings would almost double in the following months from people downloading the programme on iPlayer. At the moment, in some cases, it is hard to find this service on the EPGs.

We also have no idea what other on-demand channels will be launched in future by the PSBs. An example of what these might include is the service that is being mooted by the BBC, which it hopes to be able to launch in 18 months’ time, called BBC Ideas. It will bring together the BBC’s output across all platforms—radio, television and online—in arts, culture, science and history. It will place them alongside interesting new ideas from partners in leading arts, science and cultural institutions. The hope is that the audience will have their minds stretched and even thrilled by the interchange of ideas in a place where art meets medical science or where history meets theatrical performance. As things stand, there are many smart TVs and set-top boxes which will not give prominence to services such as these. In some cases, this is because the platform providers are also the content providers. I am sure that in the fast-growing area of smart televisions there will be relationships between television manufacturers and content providers which will favour the latter.

If public money is being spent on PSB online content provision, we have a duty to ensure that, in future, viewers should be able to access this content easily. I urge the Minister to accept this amendment.