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Is Public Service Broadcasting Still Relevant?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2359 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Is “public service broadcasting […] a concept that has outlived its relevance” (Scannell)? Discuss by consulting the current PSB requirements of British television and answering the following: Assess the argument that “the market is changing in ways that undermine a key argument of PSB” (Hargreaves-Heap)

Throughout this essay, I intend to discuss the following; “public service broadcasting […] a concept that has outlived its relevance” (P Scannell, 2005) by consulting the current PSB requirements of British television. As well as assessing the following argument that “the market is changing in ways that undermine a key argument of PSB the history of Public service broadcasting to gain an understanding of its significance and in order to analyse its relevance in today’s modern society” (Hargreaves-Heap), using evidence surrounding the end of public service broadcasting so that I can determine whether this claim is justified as well as discussing whether public service broadcasting has outlived its relevance or not.

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Public service broadcasting refers to any broadcasting system whose duty is to the public within a democracy, serving to inform, educate and entertain, while regarding the audience as constituting citizens, members of communities and individuals rather than mere consumers (P Scannel, 2005). This system of public ownership has dependably advanced on the premise that as a public asset, it ought to incorporate four vital highlights. It ought to be accessible to all in society regardless of wealth or location; it ought to cater for the majority of the interests of communities; it should provide people with information and education that they need to contribute to public debates and informed democratic participation. Overall, it ought to create what Scannell called a ‘common universe of discourse’ in society. By this, he implied a sense of community in which contribute to social cohesion (P Scannel, 1989). These “form a history of discourses about broadcasting […] chart the ways in which television could be thought and spoken, and the positions it was asked to occupy in the national culture”, (Caughie 2000, p. 79). There are 4 broadcasters that provide the nation TV: British Broadcasting Corporation, the Independent Television, Channel 4 and Channel 5. The British Broadcasting Corporation was established by in 1922. The development of Public Service Broadcasting is firmly associated with BBC. What is critical to tell about Public Service Broadcasting is their yearly permit charge it implies that BBC does not offer promoting time and its fundamental mission is to “advise, teach and engage”. The development of Public Service Broadcasting idea, give the watcher a capacity to pick useful and instructive projects without dawdling on publicising.

Within the last century, the importance of public service broadcasting has been proven as well as trying to determine the challenges that face the continuation of PSB values in contemporary media. Particularly in Britain the BBC has played a significant role in educating and informing the population in current affairs. Significantly within a democratic society, the information is seen as a universal right which should be accessible to citizens. Public Service Broadcasting that began within Britain can be traced back as far as 1922 when the Post Office set up the British Broadcasting Company (RH Coase, 2013).

Numerous reports, government green papers and bills proposed to ‘set free broadcasters from the narrow constraints of control’ furthermore it was continuously argued that satellite, cable and a deregulated broadcasting system would be able to offer the public a greater choice of programmes more suitably in line with their wants through the competitive pressures of the market (P Goodwin, 1997). The Peacock Report (1986) was persuasive in its contention that the broadcasting market ought to be opened up, and for some, this by itself flagged the end of public service broadcasting. In the past, public broadcasting was fitting as there could be no entry into the broadcasting market, yet now entry into broadcasting was achievable. Digital technology allowed numerous more stations to be conveyed, both by transmitters and satellite. With this, there was an expansion in diverts specialising in programme types, such as; news, sport or music. It is suspected that future public broadcasting viewers will be charged only for the programmes they watch in a pay per view system. However, this capacity to choose and pay increases numerous inquiries. “Needs to deliver value to the public who pay for us by upholding the principles of impartial news, quality and distinctive programming and investment in the UK’s creative economy. Let’s not pretend that deregulation and a diminishing of the BBC would provide a market that gives people the free and impartial information that is essential for a healthy and informed democracy”, (J Murdoch, 2009). Why would anybody keep on utilising generalist broadcast channels, and for what reason would it be advisable for them to pay for a greater part of unwatched, unchosen programs? However, a more prominent issue raised by this thought of pay per view is the individuals who cannot bear the cost of it, this is especially noteworthy for any law based society which demands that everybody ought to have access to information regardless of what their economic wellbeing may be.

Even though the BBC is supported by license fees and is free of advertisement income, change in the broadcasting market has affected the BBC’s conduct. The BBC without a doubt, endeavours to keep up high audience share trusting that, should adequate quantities of UK watchers and audience members stop to utilise BBC administrations, license subsidising will lose its authenticity. During the 1990s with the improvement of cable and satellite stations, the BBCs offer of the total UK market would hit a ‘legitimacy barrier’ below of which public funding would never be defensible (A Peacock, 2005). The idea of an annual fee for advertising free television had found national support.  BBC had become the most popular.

However, the new media did not replace the established media entirely. For instance, radio and film have both survived TV. The making of the BBC as an independent body initially had the transcendent point of advising the general population as a method of empowering them to settle on rational decisions. Today this idea is still maintained and the BBC remains an establishment people depend on for independent, unbiased information. “The regular commercial income received from Worldwide reduces the cost of the BBC to licence fee payers, and its ability to secure co-production funding, overseas sales and distribution for BBC. Intellectual Property is central to the future of the corporation strategically, reputationally and commercially” (BBC Trust 2015, p. 19). Also, if widespread access to information is so fundamental regarding opportunity and democracy, why at that point is public service broadcasting under danger, without a doubt in this sense its end cannot be justified. It is in this setting that the fate of public service broadcasting expects a significance as usually referred to as the defence of the democratic ideal against the business one. Besides, public service broadcasting depends on tending to its audience as citizens instead of consumers and therefore has an order to reveal to them what they need to hear and also what they don’t. Global companies trying to broaden their media portfolios regularly see Public Service Broadcasting as a deterrent to their ambitions thus for many years now their weight on government has been tenacious. Despite many arguing that the age of public service broadcasting is over, there are many counter arguments as to whether it will survive. As the choice of programmes expand, the more likely they are to place a much more increasing value of on a service provider.

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Despite many arguing that the age of Public Service Broadcasting is over, there are many counter arguments suggesting that this type of broadcasting will still survive within the near future. “Wenger also counsels against seeing Netflix and Amazon as invaders, whose only purpose is to suck up British talent and put it behind their paywall”, (C Williams, 2017). However, what might suggest the counter argument would be the up rise of online streaming, such as; Netflix or Amazon Prime. “The arrival of Netflix in the UK in 2012 and the expansion of VOD services beyond broadcaster catch-up, accompanied by the rise in ownership of smartphones and tablets and increased access to superfast broadband, were seen within the industry to contribute to questions about the future of television”, (C Johnson, 2018). Whereby new media and digital technology had began to take over, BBC decided to counter this with the upcoming of BBC iPlayer in which it still remained a powerful competitor within the broadcasting market due to not making a profit straight out of their audiences much like Netflix and Amazon Prime do through annual/monthly memberships. The usage of online on-demand and faster broadband, makes watching television for today’s audience easier through the use of the significance of digital technology. People may believe that public service broadcasting may have outlived its relevance due to the likes of the contents budget from Netflix and Amazon Prime. Having a rise in budget suggests that they are able to make much more high quality content for their target audience. Public service broadcasters are therefore trying to keep up with this against their competitors, keeping up with the move in the new digital era and online platforms as well as making it much more challenging for public service broadcasters trying to take the opportunity to take the lead within this challenge. Whereas BBC’s services offering benefits educational and informative benefits to society, including those who do not consume them. Public Service Broadcasters feared that the commercial competition they were facing, Amazon Prime and Netflix, would prove that issues would be made if they began challenging public service broadcasting services and content, such as; iPlayer, ITV Hub and All4. Even though the likes of iPlayer and ITV Hub spared no cost in providing this service, the target audience and the content that is provided on Netflix compared to iPlayer has much more of a wider context and and appeals to a much wider audience. As well as the fact that Netflix and Amazon Prime are significantly advertised more than iPlayer, which therefore also targets a much wider and broad audience, Netflix applies itself to a main target audience of young adults who are much more advanced with todays use of digital technology. Whereas iPlayer and ITV Hub are much more focused on the target audience of older adults, who are not as advanced with the digital technology we use today.                            

Where public service broadcasting is concerned, the future is unknown. Therefore, predictions of the end of Public Service Broadcasting or the end of its continued importance deserve to be treated sceptically. Public Service Broadcasting has outlived its relevance to a large extent due to the development of digital technology and its uses today. Yet, most individuals still consider Public Service Broadcasting to still have relevance, therefore it has not lost its relevance. Based on the sources I have read, and in conjunction with my assertions, I conclude that there is no justification for the concept that Public Service Broadcasting has outlived its relevance. Overall, although I acknowledge that it is currently under pressures, I do not see that these pressures have enough substance and support to bring about such a radical change to Public Service Broadcasting as a whole.


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  • Peacock, A. (1986). Report of the Committee on Financing the BBC. London H.M.S.O.
  • Peacock, A. (2005). Public Service Broadcasting Without the BBC?. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.677401
  • Hutton, W. (2018). James Murdoch’s attack on BBC is specious and out of date. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/aug/30/bbc-murdoch-edinburgh-tv-festival
  • Hutton, G.,& Coase, R. (1950). British Broadcasting; A Study in Monopoly. The Economic Journal, 60(240), 823. doi: 10.2307/2226737
  • Harwood, K. (1967). On public broadcasting for private profit. Journal Of Broadcasting, 11(3),191-198. doi: 10.1080/08838156709363546
  • Grainge, P.,& Johnson, C. (2018). From catch-up TV to online TV: digital broadcasting and the case of BBC iPlayer. Screen, 59 (1), 21-40. doi: 10.1093/screen/hjy002
  • Goodwin, P. (1997). Public Service Broadcasting and New Media Technology: What the BBC has Done and What it Shold Have Done. Javnost – The Public, 4(4), 59-74. doi: 10.1080/131183222.1997.11008661
  • Christopher Williams. (2018). BBC seeks to the top-up licence fee with £1.4bn meger of commercial arms. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/11/29/bbc-seeks-top-up-licence-fee-14bn-merger-commercial-arms/


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