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Lords committee launches review into future of public broadcasting


Lords committee launches review into future of public broadcasting

© Nick Ansell/PA

A cross-party House of Lords committee has launched a new inquiry into whether public services broadcasters, such as the BBC and ITV, can survive the rise of on-demand video services — and whether they are “worth saving”.

The Communications Committee on Tuesday said streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have made available thousands of hours of content for “less than half” the cost of a TV license.

“There are concerns that the popularity of video on demand services has made PSBs redundant,” it said in a statement.

“The Committee will investigate if the concept of public service broadcasting retains some value, what form it should take in future and how it could be financially viable.”

Stephen Gilbert, the Conservative chair of the committee, said on-demand service companies, which do not have public service obligations, risked pricing public service broadcasters out of the production market by inflating costs.

“Public service broadcasters must fulfil a range of obligations, including on the volume and type of adverts they show, programming in specific genres, the way they commission content, the audiences they serve and the watershed,” he said.

The concern was also shared by Ofcom, the UK communications watchdog. In a report published last May, it said big budgets of online players like Netflix — which spent an estimated $13bn on content in 2018 — were driving a rise in production costs at a time when commercial public service broadcasters faced falling advertising revenues.

Tony Hall, the BBC director-general, last week complained about the unlevel playing field between the heavily regulated public service broadcasters and international video-on-demand companies.

“Ofcom themselves have pointed out that a programme can be regulated in numerous ways depending on who hosts it,” Lord Hall said at a conference in London, adding that a company like Netflix can update its app weekly with no need for regulatory approval.

The committee has invited written evidence from interested parties by Friday 26 April 2019.

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