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    Thursday, 28 June 2007

    Empires of the future?: Richards on tomorrow's regulation yesterday

    Ed Richards, the Chief Executive of Ofcom, delivered a speech at the IEA yesterday in which he had much to say on the future regulation of linear / on-demand delivery of audiovisual content, public service content provision, and public service broadcasting.

    On the first of these points he highlighted the fact that Big Brother can currently be received in four different ways: on Channel 4, E4 or E4+1 (embarassingly - although for whom I'm not sure - I had to have my mum and dad explain to me last weekend how the 'live' BB coverage on the latter two channels was able to show the same people doing different things at the same time. Before the enlightenment I'd just thought, "its a really weird place that House!"), live on the Ch4 website or Four on Demand, clips online off YouTube etc, or clips on mobile phones. His point was that while the middle two options were unregulated, the first was regulated by Ofcom, while the last was subject to self-regulation.

    Richards' view was that "it is quite a challenge trying to explain this logic to an average member of the general public". Its a point well-made. His conclusion: the recent agreement on the A-VMS directive is "a sensible evolution of the current model" but one that is "likely to be only a stepping stone on a journey, because it’s far from clear that the current settlement represents a long term sustainable solution to the future of content regulation".

    So, following Tony Blair earlier this month (on this aspect of Blair's speech, see this), we have a second notable suggesting the need for further regulatory reform in the media sector (or rather a third, given that Viviane Reding has been mooting something akin to a European FCC). Very much a 'watch this space' scenario...

    Regarding the PSB and PSP elements of his speech, Richards announced that the second review of PSB was to be brought forward in order, first, that its analysis might inform the government's intended review of the case for distributing public funding beyond the BBC, and secondly that the uncertainty facing existing PSBs isn't prolonged. He saw this review as a 'once in a generation' opportunity to revisit and revise our system of broadcasting, and highlighted a number of key points that should inform the consideration.

    Beyond this, Richards threw a few crumbs of comfort to those involved in developing HD for Freeview, although he also reiterated the regulator's view that the existing spectrum should allow the development of multiple HD channels (not just the single one currently mooted). There was no promise, however, that the existing PSBs would get any fillip from the switchover dividend. Russ from OfcomWatch makes an important point on this: "it’s not exactly a great prize to think that in 2012 there will only be 4 HD channels on Freeview. In fact, that’s under-serving the public by a wide margin if you consider that by that time, nearly everyone will have an HD television and want to receive all their programming in HD... HD won’t be regarded as HD in the future — it will simply be the television quality everyone expects at all times... the real challenge for the regulator is what steps can it take now to ensure that in five years time the DTT platform is not considered some third-rate service".

    1 comment:

    Andrew Scott said...

    For further comment on the emergence of HDTV in the UK, and importantly to whom the spoils of freed spectrum might fall, see this leader from the Guardian:

    Lack of vision

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