Public Service Broadcasting – what it really is

  • Central to the concept is the licence fee
  • But as audiences fragment there is no longer a national audience
  • Audience no longer citizens but consumers
  • Philosophy of PSB from Lord Reith: ‘to educate, inform and entertain.’
  • Some critics believed Reith saw the BBC as a kind of church, producers as priests and himself as Pope or Messiah.
  • Reith believed the BBC could ‘bring culture to the masses’ and ‘bring the nation together.’ It helped create a sense of national community. His vision was to unify the whole nation in a service where everyone had access to a diversity of high-quality programmes and objective news.
  • Reith did not trust the public to make their own cultural choices, they needed to be guided.
  • BBC still independent on goodwill of government whenever charter or licence fee comes up for renewal
  • 1980s philosophy of deregulation put BBC under pressure to increase its funding from commercial activities.
  • Pressure from other broadcasters began in late 1930s and particularly on Sundays when BBC broadcasting didn’t begin till 12:30 after people had been to church.
  • 1939 the notion of middle-class families sting around the radio at home together changed to communal ‘families’ in works canteens and military camps.
  • BBC segmented its audience by producing for different audiences.
  • Forces Programme had American style programmes, comics, music and morale boosting diversions, down-to-earth and irreverent content and language.
  • Need for news resulted in rapid growth of BBC’s own news gathering service. Including on-the-spot reports from the battlefields

 

 

So what is different about PSB?

  • ‘free’ quality broadcasting
  • no need to satisfy ratings
  • can make less ‘populist’ programmes
  • can represent minority interest groups
  • as a result documentaries and educational programmes or hugely expensive costume dramas that only appeal to a niche audience
  • yet ITV often managed and run in similar war to BBC because many execs were trained at the Beeb and come from similar background and educational establishments.
  • 1962 Pilkington Committee deemed ITV as equating ‘quality with box office success.’ Modern example would be the commercial success of Big Brother but without being a piece of quality programme making.
  • 1990 Broadcasting Act and expansion of services available to audiences
  • Audience now consumers not citizens – society fragmented and isolated, n o longer unified except in some ideological beliefs.

 

 

How has PSB lost out? The situation now

  • Cannot compete financially for sport or celebrity events or to host programmes (Graham Norton poached by BBC from C4 and Parkinson from BBC to ITV!)
  • BBC unable to call itself the ‘national broadcaster.’
  • Yet BBC still very popular, always attracts large audiences to national events
  • BBC have made many populist programmes to maintain audience share
  • Commercial channels unwilling to spend large money on making programmes and have to buy in
  • BBC’s current Planet Earth hugely popular on BBC second only to Eastenders!
  • BBC News bulletins still out perform all ITV’s
  • ITV more concerned with making and broadcasting popular programmes rather than fulfilling any PSB remit
  • BBC still appears regularly in top five of BARB charts for shows like Eastenders
  • BBC and ITV’s share of audience is decreasing
  • ITN criticised for tabloid approach to news on NEWS AT TEN; decline in hard news for human interest, showbiz and sensationalist stories

 

 

The future of PSB?

  • Government still committed to it
  • Recent broadcasting left very much to market forces
  • Contradictory for BBC still seen as national broadcaster and with prestige connotations
  • 80% of viewers still watch BBC and ITV despite the growth in digital and satellite
  • But PSB type programmes like religious, documentaries, current affairs, educational are less popular
  • and becoming increasingly marginalised in the schedules hence the move of Panorama to Sunday nights
  • Commercial broadcasters are not interested in national audience because they want to maximise their viewing figures and target specific sections of the community most attractive to advertisers
  • Channels increasingly designing programmes to be accessible and therefore saleable worldwide – this is globalisation
  • As terrestrial channels share diminishing increasingly hard to justify a licence fee paid by all.
  • But how else could PSB be funded?
  • Subscription would only enable a wealthy minority to sign up
  • BBC beginning to identify particular niche it can accommodate e.g. arts, ethnic groups, news, cultural, and children’s particularly successfully
  • Hence the range of new channels designed for specific audiences e.g. CBeebies and Radio 7; BBC3 also has a new younger age range and 80% must feature new talent
  • Commercial channels have complained of the unfairness of BBC making inroads into digital broadcasting because they are able to do so out of the licence fee, a buffer the commercial channels do not have the luxury of
  • Greg Dyke DG in 2001 claimed that the BBC is ‘part of the glue which brings the whole of the nation together’ at a time when many pressures are forcing it apart.
  • Consumers seem to want the BBC to continue its PSB role but equally many now object to paying for it!

 


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