Public Broadcasting (PSB) is facing an existential crisis and needs to “find new ways to engage with the beast [they] are confronted with’ according to a panel of TV experts at this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival.
The controversial topic opened the three-day event, which will feature some of TV’s biggest players as well as stars including Succession’s Brian Cox and Strictly winner and ex-EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis.
As the festival’s official broadcast partner, Sky News will bring exclusive coverage on mobile, TV and podcast, broadcasting the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture, hosted by Emily Maitlis, stay.
Focusing on the political issues surrounding the future of public service broadcasting, creative director and former chief creative officer of the BBC, Pat Younge, told Sky News “the main challenges facing British broadcasters at the moment in terms of the BBC and Channel 4 is the government”.
Speaking at the session, he said we are dealing with a “post-truth, post-evidence government that is just ripping up the rule book”, adding, “we have to find new ways to engage with the beast we are confronted with. with”.
However, in a later session, BBC chairman Richard Sharp told the festival that he “will deal with government interference”, insisting that “they value the BBC”.
Sharp, who is a former banker and prominent Tory party donor, was interviewed by actor David Harewood. He became BBC chairman in 2021.
Calling the broadcaster “one of our biggest export industries” and “perhaps our leading global brand”, Sharp said he has engaged with critics in the government “to understand where they are coming from”.
He pointed to what he called a “BBC bias” and said some ministers believe it is an “outrage that they should be funding an organization that opposes them”. He also spoke of the free market, which he said “should let people pay for what they want to see”.
The government has called the license fee “completely outdated” and says it wants to find a new funding model before the current deal expires in 2027.
The the license fee will remain fixed at £159 until April 2024and then rise in line with inflation for the following four years, until the end of the current Royal Charter on 31 December 2027.
While talks with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport began earlier this year, All3Media boss Jane Turton told the festival it was “difficult to talk about what was achieved” in the discussions.
Alternative financing models for PSBs that have been discussed include subscription models, advertising and broadband charges.
Speaking about the license fee in his session, BBC chairman Richard Sharp said: “We are reviewing all options and we have not yet come to a conclusion … It is up to Parliament on behalf of the people to decide. We have been asked to look at all the options, and we are.”
He went on to say, “It starts with a purpose… And you work with funding that supports that”.
Speaking about the possibility of hybrid solutions, he pointed to UKTV and Dave) as potential funding models. Dave is a British free-to-air television channel owned by UKTV, a subsidiary of BBC Studios.
Sharp said that while he felt Sky and Disney were supporting the BBC’s current battle for survival, he felt Netflix was less so.
He also highlighted the success of BBC iPlayer, which he called “world class”, comparing it to Netflix’s platform, saying “I think we can compete”.
Apart from the BBC’s license fee, Channel 4 – which is owned by the government but funded by advertising – facing potential privatisation.
The Government has argued that Channel 4’s long-term future must be secured amid concerns about its survival in the streaming era, with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries saying its ownership is holding it back.
And it is not only political issues that trouble the PSBs. There have been massive changes in behavior as a younger audience turns away from traditional TV viewing, watching more short and medium format content on streaming, on-demand and social video services.
Counterintuitively, a younger generation may benefit from the legacy of PBSs without necessarily realizing it.
Recent OFCOM findings show that people aged 16-24 spend less than an hour (53 minutes) in front of broadcast TV on an average day – a drop of two-thirds over the past ten years.
Streaming giants are exacerbating the television generation gap, creating a strong divide in the viewing habits of younger and older people.
But while younger viewers watch content like Peaky Blinders on Netflix, they no longer attribute it to its parent broadcaster, the BBC.
Speaking about Peaky Blinders, Banijay CEO Patrick Holland told the festival crowd, “shows like this are big and bold and speak to a young audience as well as a broad audience, which is key”.
Holland also highlighted the generation gap – saying broadcasters needed to create content for a younger audience and double down on funding programming for that audience.
So the question remains, what can the PSBs do better?
Wonderhood Studios co-founder David Abraham highlighted the success of the Women’s Euro 2022 and the power of television to bring the nation together.
He said it was a moment largely created by the BBC’s decision to “go big” on the Games, pushing the agenda of women’s sport, which paid off big.
In a rare moment of between-session consensus, BBC chairman Richard Sharp also flagged the event, saying the broadcaster “took a risk by pushing women’s football, which brought 17 million people together to watch England play”.
Naked CEO Fatima Salaria said broadcasters “must be braver and take risks. Tell a variety of stories. We have to set the agenda.”
While Jane Turton said we need to “reframe what success looks like for PSBs”.
Turton also said she felt there was value in creating more content for British audiences. This would be a marked departure from the approach of many of the streaming giants who often focus on shows with a more global appeal.
Concluding the session, Turton also shared a prosaic view of the sometimes romanticized role of creating compelling television, saying: “We’re a business, we sell shows”.
The Edinburgh Television Festival 2022 will run from Wednesday 24 August to Friday 26 August. August, with Sky News as the official media partner.