Government announces plans for “distinctively British” TV shows
James R | On 16, Sep 2021
The government has announced new plans for TV shows that are “distinctively British” in a move to “protect the creation of uniquely British TV”.
Framed as a step to help public service broadcasts compete with streaming services in a digital age, the plans were announced by Media Minister John Whittingdale, who told the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention that the government wants to introduce regulations that will force PSBs to produce and broadcast “distinctively British” content.
The first step, though, is for the government to decide what exactly it means by that. While Whittingdale – who was removed from his post this week in Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle – named shows such as Dr Who, Downton Abbey, The Great British Bake Off, Top Gear, The Bodyguard and Planet Earth as “international hits [that] also reflect Britain and British values”, he didn’t specify what was meant by the phrase “distinctively British” or how to quantify it.
Proposals will be outlined in a new white paper, which may include the plan for Ofcom to issue “genre-specific guidance for PSBs against which to measure their programmes” or specify requirements to use “predominantly British talent” or require “greater priority being given to national sporting and cultural ‘moments’ that bring people together, such as Emma Raducanu’s stunning US Open victory”.
The plans will go one step further than the current requirement for PSBs to simply broadcast original content, which has previously been deemed sufficient enough to result in distinctive content that resonates with audiences. Whittingdale said that the aim is to produce programming that “contributes to British culture and allows UK audiences to see their own way of life and representations of themselves reflected on TV”. There is no mention of shows such as the BBC’s Small Axe and I May Destroy You or Top Boy, however, which were both hits and reflect more diverse experiences of life in Britain than, say, Downton Abbey.
The government will also introduce new must-carry obligations for PSB content on digital platforms, so that such titles are “always carried and discoverable to UK audiences on connected devices and major online platforms” – including smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks.
Current “prominence” rules state that the PSBs must be listed in the first five slots in electronic programme guides on TV sets. However, these do not extend to TV guides and other user interfaces within online TV platforms. The PSB on-demand services (such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 and regional services such as S4C’s Clic and STV Player) will also need to be “easily findable on platform user interfaces”.
The white paper will be published this autumn.