The BBC has called for regulation that doesn’t disadvantage public service broadcasters (PSBs) against large global competitors, stressing the urgency of its plans to revamp the iPlayer.
Speaking at the IPPR Oxford Media Convention, BBC Chairman Davide Clementi called for a system of regulation that “promotes and protects public service broadcasting,” claiming that the current system has its origins in a bygone era where “the BBC was seen as the big beast in the jungle”.
“We need to look again at whether regulation, born in a UK-centric linear era, remains fit for the global, digital age,” he said, pointing out that the BBC’s major competitors are increasingly international giants like Netflix, Spotify, Facebook and YouTube, which have much larger financial resources.
Clementi made specific reference to Ofcom’s intervention in the BBC’s plans to ‘reinvent the iPlayer,’ complaining that the broadcast regulator’s response has been “to slow the BBC down” at a time when “to stand still is to go rapidly backwards”.
“We are concerned that Ofcom take a narrow view of the marketplace, and in the area of iPlayer have looked just at our position against other PSB players and Sky’s Now TV,” he said.
“Over the last four years, Netflix and Amazon together have moved their joint market share to around 55%. At the same time, iPlayer’s share of the total VOD market has fallen from over 40% to around 18%.”
The BBC is currently conducting a public interest test after Ofcom ruled in November that its proposed iPlayer changes marked a material change to the BBC’s UK Public Services – a decision that was at odds with the BBC Board’s finding that the changes were not material.
The BBC’s iPlayer plans include: making programmes available for at least 12 months after they air; offering more live programming and more content from the BBC archive; and providing complete box sets of selected titles, namely returning series and their back catalogues.
“Our aim is to make some important but straightforward changes to bring it [the iPlayer] more into line with what the rest of the market is already doing,” said Clementi, arguing that “every month is precious, and comes with the risk of lagging even further behind audience needs and expectations.”
The BBC Chairman said he wanted to start a debate based on four critical questions: how should we define the presence of the BBC in the market; at what point should the regulator exercise step-in powers; what can we do to increase the speed of the regulatory process; and are the government and Ofcom doing enough to strengthen the PSB ecology for consumers?
He also said that we “need to be mindful” of approaches like the Competition Commission’s 2009 decision to block ‘Project Kangaroo’ – a proposed joint VOD platform from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. He claimed this move had “famously and demonstrably failed UK audiences”.
“We need to find a way forward that does not just play into the hands of global competitors at the expense in particular of UK PSBs. The explosion of choice from the new online players has undoubtedly been a good thing for UK consumers, but in embracing the new we should also celebrate, and protect, what is good about our existing broadcast ecology.”