One of the main talking points of the Government’s White Paper on Broadcasting was a proposal that would make it easier for PSBs to move certain types of programmes off their main channel and on to digital offshoot channels or streaming services.
Quotas for certain types of public service broadcasting are currently only fulfilled if they are shown on one of the main five channels.
Sky speculated that shows like Gardeners’ World and Songs of Praise could be moved online under the new rules. And on Thursday morning, Times Radio’s business correspondent Dominic O’Connell* pondered whether the rule changes could make it possible for ITV’s regional news to move to ITV 3.
The complexity of regionalising a TV channel means I don’t think that’s likely any time soon. Over a decade after launching ITV in HD, there are still viewers who can’t receive their local news on ITV HD, notably on Freeview.
More likely is a subtle shift online. Example: During World Cups and European Championships, ITV’s teatime schedule often needs to cater for early evening kick-offs. At the moment, in order to fulfil quotas the main regional news programme is shown as early at 4pm. Under the new rules, instead of having to move the full programme into the afternoon, ITV could opt to show a short bulletin, with the full programme shown on ITV X.
More interesting is the prospect of what this means for any future buyer of Channel 4. A 60-minute news programme in primetime is not the most commercially attractive feature of the broadcaster. But if the new buyer was able to move the news to – let’s say – More4, and still meet its public service quotas, then that starts to look appealing.
The problem with allowing this is that it undermines EPG prominence. Beyond the main five channels, others including BBC Three and Four must be allocated a top 24 slot on channel lists on all main platforms. (A transitional period applies for BBC Three – all platforms must include BBC Three in the top 24 everywhere in the UK within 18 months of its relaunch.)
But commercial offshoots like ITV 3, More4 and 5Select don’t enjoy the same prominence as their mother channels. Moving public service content here will reduce visibility. Out of sight, out of mind – or perhaps paving the way to quietly drop certain types of programmes in the future?
Of course, more viewing is done online. And under the proposals outlined in the White Paper, services like BBC iPlayer and All4 will be entitled to greater prominence on connected TV platforms.
But while the app may be given prominence, there’s nothing to say how prominent certain genres should be once a user has arrived in the app. Broadcasters could still bury certain content by making it difficult to find, or not promoting it.
Could the main TV channels end up like the main commercial radio stations? All showcasing the same, commercially safe type of content, just in a different order? Specialist genres pushed into digital-only ghettos reaching much smaller numbers of people? What a shame that would be.
* At 00:45 in the clip; available up to seven days after broadcast.
PICTURED: BBC News gallery. COPYRIGHT: BBC.