The communications regulator in the United Kingdom is recommending radical legal changes to ensure that public service media survives and thrives for the next decade and beyond. It is proposing the biggest shakeup to the system in twenty years. Among other measures, it would require public service media providers to offer their on-demand services to popular platforms, which would be required to carry them with appropriate prominence.

It follows the Small Screen: Big Debate consultation conducted by Ofcom, which demonstrated the importance of public service media for viewers in the United Kingdom and the urgent need to update the system to ensure its future sustainability.

“If we’re to preserve public service media and its outstanding content for future generations, change needs to happen — and fast,” commented Dame Melanie Dawes, the chief executive of Ofcom.

The regulator is recommending that the Government brings forward legislation to secure and strengthen the role of public service media, including a new objective to support the creative economy in the United Kingdom.

It says that new rules are needed so that public service media providers must offer to popular television platforms the on-demand services that they rely on to fulfil their public service media obligations. In turn, platforms should be required to include and give appropriate prominence to public service media, with Ofcom given powers to monitor and enforce this and to resolve commercial disputes.

Ofcom is also calling for rules designed to support independent productions should apply to all public service media, whether it is commissioned for broadcast television or online, including programmes exclusively shown on online services.

Broadcast licences need to be modernised, Ofcom recommends, to cover material produced across broadcast television and online. It says that public service media providers should also be afforded flexibility to innovate and respond to technological and market changes. They should also be required to set out clear plans to deliver against their objectives and report annually on their performance, with Ofcom holding them to account.

Ofcom concludes that public service media providers must forge more ambitious strategic partnerships. It says that deeper relationships between public service media organisations and other companies, particularly on platforms and distribution, could help them compete more effectively with global players and reach wider audiences. The strategic relationship between Channel 4 and Sky is singled out as an example.

Other companies should be encouraged to produce public service media programming. Ofcom mentions news, drama and arts programming produced by existing commercial providers, such as Sky and Discovery. It also talks about economic incentives such as contestable funding or tax relief.

The public service broadcasters in the United Kingdom are those providing Channel 3 services, Channel 4, Channel 5, S4C and the BBC. While all BBC public service television channels are PSB channels, only the main channels of each of the other public service broadcasters have this status.