Dr Caitriona Noonan on behalf of JOMEC students—written evidence (BFF0042)
House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee inquiry into BBC future funding
Evidence prepared by undergraduate students taking the module “Critical Issues in Television Production” as part of their studies at the School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC), Cardiff University.
Names of those submitting this evidence:
This submission is from some of the students taking the module Critical Issues in Television Production as part of their undergraduate studies at Cardiff University. The module critically explores the industrial and institutional context of making television content today. As part of their module, students discussed the inquiry’s questions. In groups they prepared their responses to the committee’s questions, discussed and debated those questions and then prepared their comments for formal submission. The module leader (Dr Caitriona Noonan) facilitated discussion, but did not direct the discussion. This submission is their evidence.
These young people were motivated to do this by several factors including: the importance of this topic to them as citizens and as emerging creative professionals; their developing understanding of the complexities of the television market; and their perception of young people being invisible within many of the discussions taking place about PSB and the future of its broadcasters, and about their limited presence in policymaking more generally.
Given the time constraints, the group elected to provide bullet points of their discussion on each question. The responses were gathered and then submitted to the module leader. She merged the responses into one document and lightly edited for typos and factual errors. After the sessions further comments and suggestions were sent to her by students now invested in the process - she has included these and encouraged those students to prepare their own submission. The final document was circulated amongst students for final consultation and agreement before submission.
This evidence is submitted by 21 students directly present at the time of seminars, Thursday 10 March 2022. They are named above. All fall between the ages of 19 and 22. They are studying full-time at JOMEC and so most will aspire for a job in the creative industries. Four identify as Welsh, nine as English, and eight identify using another designation including: English/Thai, English/Iranian, English/Cypriot, Chinese, English/Caribbean, English/African, English/Northern Irish and Welsh/Scottish.
The group welcome the committee’s interest in this topic and thank them for the time taken to read and consider their evidence. They look forward to reading the committee’s report in due course.
- How will new technologies and consumer habits change the future broadcasting landscape?
- The move to other devices (Laptops, IPads etc) has resulted in the increased use of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus (predominantly amongst young people). This has in turn resulted in our declining viewership of traditional broadcast TV.
- We believe the rise in popularity of digital, on demand, subscription services (Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus Apple TV) also effects the viability of PSB content in a competitive market. These platforms offer huge programme banks through algorithms, tailoring content to individual consumers using methods that channels that work on a schedule can’t mirror.
- The subscription service model effects how channels will release content. The monthly subscription model for these services is also significant for consumer habits. In our experience, subscription is often not paid consistently but rather tactically for selected months with higher value content. Because many consumers will not want multiple subscriptions simultaneously different channels/providers may need to adapt their content releases to accommodate this monthly model of competition. This may mean avoiding monthly periods with competitive content release or providers bringing their most competitive content to them. Subscription channels have more pressure to produce consistent quality content to avoid high churn rates. References made to Johnson, C., Dempsey, L. & Hills, M. (2020) Routes to Content.
- Some content and services previously provided by TV has evolved making their TV format less important. Examples discussed:
- Our news consumption is largely done through more instant means like the BBC app, Edge news or even Youtube rather than the scheduled TV broadcasts of news.
- Children’s TV in many cases is replaced by providers like Youtube as the short, instant gratification and tailored content is more attractive. This has many knock-on effects like the reduction of content on television for a demographic that could probably benefit from it the most. However, short-form providers do require much more supervision as parents will need to guide content selection on a video-by-video basis and to provide approval. Children’s content consumption is also, like adult content, much more globalised. In our discussion we shared examples of siblings adopting American accents and vocabulary.
- The advance of social media, which goes hand in hand with the advancement of technology, has increased the use of sites such as Facebook - where people of all ages are able to access news and information that would have previously only been accessible through viewing broadcast TV or by reading a newspaper. This has enabled the further expansion of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok and impacted the number of households and individuals watching live TV.
- The number of individuals owning their own mobile phones, iPads and technological devices, on which you are now able to access reliable, live TV services and short clips (news and entertainment on YouTube) has rapidly increased with the modernisation of society. This can be shown with the statistic: on average, 18-24 year olds spend 51 minutes on YouTube on their phones accessing entertainment and news sites (which would have previously only been accessible via live broadcasted TV), however only spend 29 minutes watching it on their desktop (All statistics referenced here were found on the Ofcom website)
- There are also changes to event and family television. On-demand services, due to their nature, impact “event television” as there is no set time to watch them. Many also encourage “binge culture” which further detriments a mass viewing experience due to people’s varying availability. Likewise, as content on these platforms are now more often experienced individually due to being hosted on personal devices, this impacts the consumption of family tv. Demand might still exist for family and event tv, like the recent BBC Around the World in 80 Days adaptation, but there is a multitude of other factors affecting viewing figures. With the various members of our families being now more split across platforms and channels, it’s hard to spread the marketing to all of them to secure that each group watch. Also, due to being hosted on individual devices like phones and laptops, content no longer is forced to satisfy the demands of a whole family and just its individual members thereby changing the content.
- We as a young audiences have limited interaction with the EPG and believe that may be made completely redundant and phased out in the future. This means programmes are no longer found through regular browsing and happenstance or internal channel advertising putting higher emphasis on multiplatform advertising whether that be found in the real world or on social media. While the EPG is not completely ignored, our attraction to it is now completely reliant on specific popular programmes on it (often with pre-established and long-established loyalty like Peaky Blinders or Strictly Come Dancing) and is no longer the main route for non-specific content (or what we watch when we want to watch something, but don’t know what).
- What is the purpose of a national broadcaster?
- There is no single purpose because everyone will have a different need for it. Something for everyone.
- Everybody in the UK deserves access to it. It should be accessible and affordable for everybody.
- Economic purpose – create opportunities for writers, producers, independent companies
- Advancing diversity on and off screen with both the content shown and the people involved
- Bringing the British public together
- To just be there. A comfort blanket in a sense where we have the familiarity of it, knowing we can switch on the TV and for it to be there – brings us local and international news, and local TV shows that aren’t shown just anywhere else which brings people together - inherently British – very unique shows that cater to specific publics – knowing we can switch on the television and just have the privilege to access it and have it on in the background
- If it was taken away from us, we would feel a bit lost – we wouldn’t have that comfort of being able to watch something so unique to the UK, we wouldn’t have that constant access to local and international news and a myriad of TV shows; it is ingrained in British culture
- We appreciate having a range of free press/media, and diverse shows which are not monitored/restricted. Our discussions drew on comparisons with other places like Iran.
- Create good quality opportunities for us in employment – risk taking on new talent, giving young people the opportunity to enter the industry and become part of something they have grown up with.
- What principles and priorities should inform the choice of the BBC’s funding model? And how would any alternative funding models affect what the BBC can provide?
- 9 in 10 16–24-year-olds access their news online, whereas only 2/3 tune into broadcasted TV (source: Ofcom). This demonstrates an increase in the use of modern, ‘on-the-go’ devices and streaming services used by young people - these services allow the viewership of current (live) news, entertainment platforms and social media platforms in shorter clips and articles. We believe, as young people and students, that this is not only due to accessibility of these new platforms and devices, but factors such as the expense of TV licences for young people. We believe a student discount (or young people’s discount in order to encourage everyone, not just students, to get involved) on TV licences would encourage more young people to pay the fee, therefore increasing the viewership of broadcasted TV amongst our generation.
- We also believe that the main challenge to be faced in regard to the licence is persuading young people that having access to these channels is worth it for the cost, but that once they do make this investment, that it would be something they are likely to appreciate and continue to invest in for the rest of their adult lives. This lifetime purchase of a yearly TV licence, which would naturally increase in price to the standard fee once individuals exit the ‘young people’ bracket, which we believe could be set at age 25, would subsequently boost funding for public service broadcasting. Therefore, we believe it would be incredibly beneficial for the industry to look into this as an option for increasing viewership of (public sector) broadcasting amongst young people.
- Discussion around BBC funding via subscription model: very general audience, however, may force out older viewers or lesser fortunate who may not be able to afford or access the BBC if it became online or subscription based. A box office approach to certain aspects of the BBC’s content may be a valid and interesting approach, with an example looking at the FA Cup. An FA Cup pass would be an example of consumers being able to access only the content they want to, this example would be a subscription fee which gave the consumer access to only the FA Cup but would allow them to watch every game and stop people from having to pay for channels and content they don’t want. The BBC as a subscription service could offer live and pre-recorded Tv, radio and online content giving them a large USP (Unique Selling Point) to gain customers. People can cancel their subscription and maybe feel like they have more control over which they can receive and pay for. However, this shifts from viewpoint of public being a citizen to consumer.
- Discussion around Government Grant as future funding model - these could result in significant reduction or possible abolishment of the license fee. This would make the BBC a free PSB as the government would fund the majority of the BBC’s day-to-day activities. This does however pose the problem that if the government is funding television what stops them from controlling it too (e.g. political parties in power being able to control what news is shown and broadcast)? As well as this, the grant system would mean that the government could pull the plug at any point which would then plummet the BBC into a deep hole where the licences would have to return.
- Discussion around tax as a future model - taxing companies and organisations further was discussed. We believe this to be valid as companies are part of the British public and as such should have to help fund PSB as they can benefit from it and use it themselves (e.g. Netflix). Also discussed an Earmarked Tax as operated in Thailand where a percentage of negative externality goods (i.e. tobacco, alcohol) is taken to fund PSB. Probably needs to be capped depending on how large a percentage is taken. PSB is slowly transitioning from the viewpoint of citizen to consumer - subscription-based services reinforce this viewpoint. But licence fee is seen as better than an increase in individual taxes at the moment.
- An option could be Netflix and big SVOD services, they earn £1.15bn a year, from the UK (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/ oct/15/netflix-paid-just-4m-in-uk-corporation-tax-on-115bn-from-british-subscribers) but only put back £730million into the economy, options either require them to spend more in the UK in production etc or could say they have to pay a certain amount into help funding PSB in the UK. Corporations like Netflix will also benefit because BBC is producing content that Netflix benefits from, etc ‘Our Planet' 'Peaky Blinders' 'Black Mirror' (which originally started on BBC and then moved to Netflix). BBC can take the risks with shows because they provide genres for everyone regardless of views. Netflix contributing to its funding, TV remains accessible to all.
- No to privatisation of public service broadcasters like BBC and Channel 4 - it’s a public service, it should remain a public service. In being accessible to all (or most) it provides many multi-cultural, diverse services to every denomination of society, obviously there's gaps, but the PSBs are working towards filling this but if it’s a SVOD content creation is catered towards views and statistics instead of providing something for everyone. Whoever has the most money, has the most influence (etc the television model in the US).
- Publicly funding through TV licence makes sense because we're receiving the service. As a public service, it is providing essential services. But with rising prices due to inflation, people of low income might not be able to afford a TV licence so alternative funding options must be explored as well.
- Factors such as age and income should be considered when informing the choices of the BBC’s funding model.
- Long-term financial plans should be encouraged so that the BBC and S4C are secure with their spending choices.
- The change in technological devices and how we consume TV should be considered when looking at alternative funding methods (e.g. subscription).
- The increased use of video platforms online (e.g. Tik Tok and Youtube) should be an incentive for more funding going towards promotion on these platforms.
- There was a consensus in the group that income should definitely be considered when looking at any amounts to be paid.
- When looking at alternative funding methods that depend on various platforms, this should be flexible.
- How should the BBC change over the next five years to adapt to evolving consumer habits and needs - and what does the Corporation need to do to prepare for the future in the longer term?
- Licence fee: BBC and government to work together to keep licence fee - problem is less inclination to pay for licence fee due to increase in streaming - however could be relative to how much you are watching
- Content: young people maybe don't relate to this content - old fashioned. Need more culturally diverse programming - representing minorities more - this includes more Welsh content - follow in Channel 4 footsteps in having a foreign language section on streaming platform. Have more international content to appeal to audience outside UK.
- Make more youth-targeted content such as Fleabag, Normal People etc. and focus time and money into BBC Three, less into older audience programmes such as the proms
- Focus on social media and digital platforms - in-channel advertising isn't as effective anymore so need to promote programming on platforms that young people use
- The need for easier access to varied global news coverage, potentially specific segments in the news which are alternative to the predominant headlines based in the UK. E.g. What is the rest of the world doing about Climate Change?
- An increase in content to stimulate more diverse knowledge, for example, more focus on topics outside of British history, provided by people in other cultures.
- More relatable representations for people in minority groups. For example, ethnic minorities, non-able-bodied people, all genders etc being the main characters instead of just peripheral characters.
- Caution should be exercised over appointment of head figures within the BBC so to prevent undue political or commercial interference.
- More creative family TV that will bring people together that isn’t a game show or something we’ve already seen multiple times. For example, more content like Around the World in 80 Days that all the family can watch together.
- While new entities like Brit-Box seem like a good remedy that offer PSB content in the more competitive format, our perception is that it lacks funding for marketing and the creation of new and original content to completely remedy the fall in PSB viewing.
- Jobs for normal people to make content for other normal people. More accessible routes into the industry from more diverse backgrounds, not who you know but what you can contribute and who you can represent.
- What actions and consultations are needed from the government to inform its future BBC funding plans?
There was a general discussion in which several perceptions were raised and agreed. These include:
- Decisions on the licence fee and the future of PSB should be politically neutral and independent of the government.
- There should be greater consideration of the impact in Wales and on S4C of the discussions about funding and programmes.
- There should be a greater presence for young people in the plans to inform future funding and strategy (some discussion of a “people’s charter” to set future funding).
- Some discussion of the negative impact on society of politicians threatening broadcasters or using the opportunity to deflect from other issues.
- The group suggested that a change to TV funding would have wider implications for the creative sector (and therefore their future employment opportunities) and so there needed to be care taken not to ‘cripple’ the whole sector.
10 March 2022