Footage of John Cleese’s famous all-star 1985 BBC licence fee advert – in which he adapts the “What have the Romans ever done for us?” scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian to show how much the corporation provides – kicked off this session on public service broadcasting. Former BBC Director-General and New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said many of the reasons that Cleese listed for paying the licence fee still felt “very true today”.
In a year of a Labour Wales, Tory England and SNP Scotland, what does Britishness mean now and in the future? And how can, and should, the British media react? The PSBs are rapidly spreading production round the country. What does this mean for the industry? Is it too late to save UK plc? Top pollster and TV pundit Professor Sir John Curtice puts a series of scenarios to a panel of industry leaders to explore their views of Britishness and the fragmenting media landscape.
Kirsty Wark, Journalist and Writer
Public service broadcasters have a “fleetingly short space of time” to find a better financing model – and without guaranteed prominence on smart TVs, “PSB is dead, it is over”. These were just two of the stark warnings aired at an RTS panel discussion “Small beer or big deal: Should we still care about PSB?”.
Google the words “public service broadcasting” and you’ll see that the first few links relate to a well-known band that has played at Glastonbury, the Royal Albert Hall and Brixton. Its first album was called Inform – Educate – Entertain.
Only after that will you find links to Ofcom’s page on public service broadcasting and the Government’s new Public Service Broadcasting Advisory Panel.
Watch the first Steve Hewlett Scholarship event 'British Broadcasting In Crisis? The PSBs' at 5.30pm on Monday 7 December.
Chair John Stapleton, Broadcaster, Former BBC, TV-am, GMTV, ITV, is joined by Mark Damazer, Former BBC Trustee & Controller Radio Four, Greg Dyke, Former Director General, BBC, Former CEO LWT, Claire Enders, Founder Enders Analysis, and Alex Mahon, CEO Channel Four Television.
Gifted a captive audience, television has seen its ratings soar during the coronavirus crisis. “People are spending much longer in front of TV sets,” Justin Sampson, CEO of ratings body Barb, told an RTS Zoom event in June. During the first nine weeks of the lockdown, people spent an average of five hours seven minutes in front of the box, a third more than during the same period in 2019.
Independent producers are the most vulnerable to the economic carnage unleashed on the television sector by coronavirus. That was the consensus of a lively RTS webinar examining the impact of Covd-19 on the UK’s TV and related content industries. However, despite this worrying situation, there was agreement that all the British broadcasters would survive the downturn.
“People are spending much longer in front of TV sets,” Justin Sampson, CEO of ratings body Barb, told an RTS Zoom event in early June.
During the first nine weeks of the lockdown, people spent an average of 5 hours 7 minutes in front of the box, 33% more than during the equivalent period in 2019. These are “the kind of levels you’d normally see at Christmas”, said Sampson.
Viewing of Barb-reported channels – which doesn’t include unidentified viewing: the SVoDs such as Netflix; gaming; YouTube; or overseas satellite channels – has risen by 18%.
The UK is being tested as never before in peacetime – and in an age when communication is immediate and uncontrollable and diffuse. But, if the nation does come together and get through the challenges of Covid-19, it will have done so with the help of the most traditional forms of public service broadcasting (PSB).