Lords publish report on Media Convergence and ‘the elephant in the room’

Lords publish report on Media Convergence and ‘the elephant in the room’

The Lords Select Committee on Communications has published its report on Media Convergence yesterday, after months of evidence sessions with some of the big hitters from the media world (including our very our Chair Richard Hooper). The report is available here with accompanying information here.

The Chair of the Committee, Lord Inglewood, commented on the report that “The elephant in the room has been the impact of technological change – the Internet. Sitting over most of the media we consume is a complicated framework of rules and regulations. These are supposed to make sure the content the UK public engages with meets their expectations. However, the simple days have gone.”

The headline implication of the report is its recommendation for the establishing of a new co-regulatory content standards framework to support a common framework for TV and TV-like content , with the aim of incorporating non-PSB broadcasters and moving them from a licence based to a notification based system. The vision for this new system is that it would be that it be incorporated into an amended Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive or its successor, that industry players in scope of this new framework adopt a standard age-based classification system and that this new framework could potentially also capture non-PSB news and current affairs into its remit.

There are a number of other recommendations that will be of interest to the sector. Firstly, the Committee proposes that broadcast licences should be amended to ensure that standards similar to those set out in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code would apply to any service using the same channel name or brand as a licensed broadcast service. In turn Ofcom should investigate whether non-broadcast providers of TV like service such as Netflix could comply with an appropriate set of standard drawn from the Broadcast Code, in return for some type of kitemark.

Next, the paper recommends that the next Communications Bill should establish a more pro-active role for Ofcom regarding the internet and Ofcom should be required to establish and publish on a  regular basis the UK public’s expectations of major digital intermediaries such as ISPs and other digital gateways in respect of issues such as access controls and content classification systems – a position that has met with disapproval from the Open Rights Group.

The Committee also ask that the government conduct a full review of the PSB system in advance of the next BBC Charter Review, and should consider the issue of PSB prominence in an increasing converged environment. They also ask that the Government should invite the BBC Trust to consider how best to enhance the BBC’s overall economic impact and reassuring the market that effective safeguards are in place prior to the next Charter Review.

Turning to spectrum issues, the report recommends that Ofcom should ensure that sufficient spectrum is available to support a sustainable DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) platform for the future, and that before any move to full AIP for DTT, Ofcom should further consider the risks and benefits involved with its introduction and Ofcom should be asked to fully assess the impact that spectrum pricing will have on the funding available for high quality PSB. The Committee also requested that Government should consider clarifying Ofcom’s existing ex ante competition powers for the audiovisual sector, but this should also ensure that high hurdle needs to be overcome before any ex ante approach can be adopted.

We expect the Government’s formal response in the next two months.

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