Restricted: For Committee use onlyBRO0007

 

Written evidence submitted by Arqiva

 

Overview and introduction

We welcome the opportunity to respond to the Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry into broadcasting in Wales. Arqiva is a communications, infrastructure, and media services company at the heart of broadcasting in the UK. We deliver broadcast television and radio services that entertain, inform, and support community connection across millions of UK households.

Broadcast services are part of the fabric of national life in Wales. The reach of broadcasting is unmatched by other content distribution platforms, and it is through these networks that public service broadcasters meet their universality objectives. Millions of people across all demographics tune into broadcast TV and radio regularly. According to BARB, an estimated 17.3 million (61.2%) of UK households have Freeview in their household [1], and RAJAR reports that 88% of UK adults (aged 15+) tune into radio every week, with the majority of listening hours consumed via DAB and AM/FM radio.[2]

For many households in Wales, and across the UK, broadcast services are at the core of their news, entertainment, and other programming consumption, with streaming services providing additional content choices. Importantly, DTT and radio broadcasting is also free at the point of use, providing access to a wide choice of TV and radio programming without the added costs of monthly subscriptions or broadband service fees. This helps ensure content, including public service broadcasting, is widely accessible to all audiences. The cost-of-living crisis, and subsequent widespread cancellation of subscription services by households[3], has provided a reminder of the importance of safeguarding access to free-to-air broadcasting.

It is also important to remember that while many enjoy a combination of content platforms, there are groups heavily dependent on broadcast TV and radio. This includes the elderly, people lacking digital skills, people in the lowest social grades, as well as rural audiences with more limited access to other services. DTT supports greater social inclusion, providing all audiences with programmes that connect them to their community and the nation.

The ongoing importance of these services is widely recognised. Ipsos’ research found that 90% of people in Wales believe broadcast services should continue to be supported. The same percentage (90%) hold this view across Great Britain.[4] Further, 85% of adults in Great Britain suggest government or local MPs should actively support the continued provision of broadcast services.[5]

Looking to the future, a successful and dynamic broadcasting sector in Wales will be hybrid, with a choice of services available. DTT and broadcast radio will be a critical part of this mix, ensuring widespread access across demographics to public service broadcasting. It is therefore essential that Government continue to support the long-term delivery of broadcasting services.

Currently, there is only certainty for the provision of DTT through to 2030, and upcoming policy decisions will shape the future of this service. Ofcom has recently opened a call for input on the UK’s preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23), where nations will negotiate DTT’s spectrum regulatory arrangements. A “no change” position to the current spectrum regulatory arrangements would protect DTT as well as radio services which share DTT’s infrastructure, providing the certainty stakeholders need to invest in broadcast platforms for the long-term. This consultation represents an opportunity to use the UK’s new-found freedoms in multilateral negotiations to advocate for this position, rather than voting in a bloc with the EU. We would encourage this Committee to ensure the interests of viewers and listeners in Wales are strongly represented as Ofcom and DCMS make this case on the international stage.

By safeguarding the continued delivery of broadcast services through to 2040 and beyond, we can bring confidence to viewers and listeners that these services will continue providing access to the content they rely on and enjoy into the future.

We would welcome the opportunity to engage with the Committee further on this topic.

Yours sincerely,  

Laurie Patten 

Director of Strategy and Regulation

Arqiva 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Responses to Broadcasting in Wales Call for Evidence questions

 

Many people in Wales and across the UK now have a range of choice in the services they use to access video and audio content. This includes a range of subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) services (such as Netflix) and audio streaming services (such as Spotify). According to Ofcom’s 2021 Media Nations report, about three fifths (59%) of Welsh households have a SVoD service and one in four adults listen to podcasts.[6] It would be incorrect, however, to view the uptake of these services as representing a transition away from broadcasting. Broadcast TV and radio are the backbone for accessing content, including public service broadcasting, for many; including individuals that subscribe to streaming services to ‘top up’ their content options. These services will continue to be depended on through to 2040 and beyond, playing a critical part in a hybrid media environment where individuals have a choice of services.

To ensure the widespread availability of public service broadcasting across areas and demographics in Wales into the future, it will be essential to continue to support distribution through DTT and broadcast radio. Broadcasting services underpin universal delivery of public service broadcasting, and ensure audiences can access news, entertainment, and other programming even where they do not have a high-quality internet connection or ability to pay for monthly subscription fees or broadband.

Broadcast services are widely used and highly valued by consumers, including younger audiences

A significant number of people regularly tune into broadcasting. Recent research from Ipsos found that almost three fifths of adults (56%) in Great Britain have watched Freeview through DTT in the past year, and 43 per cent of adults watch at least weekly.[7] Further, Ipsos found that people were often not just broadcast or streaming service users – but both. On-demand viewers were found to be just as likely as the average adult to be weekly viewers of Freeview through DTT (41% vs. 43% seen across Great Britain overall).[8] Broadcast radio is also heavily used and relied on. RAJAR reports that 88% of the UK population (aged 15+) tune into radio every week, and the vast majority of weekly listening hours (73%) are consumed via DAB and AM/FM radio.[9] While older age groups (55+) are generally heavier users, younger audiences also access broadcast TV and radio. Ipsos found that 27% of 18–34-year-olds watch Freeview via DTT every week, and about half of 18-24s listen to radio every week (52%).[10]

These viewers and listeners highly value broadcast services. Ipsos found that 84% of adults in Wales consider the continued provision of Freeview through DTT important, if not essential.[11] Wales leads the way in terms of ranking DTT essential or very important in Great Britain. The same number in Wales, 84%, were found to consider broadcast radio important, if not essential.

Further reflecting the importance of these services to individuals, 90% of adults in Wales believe broadcast services should continue to be supported. This is exactly in line with Ipsos’ findings for Great Britain broadly.[12] Ipsos further found that 85% of adults in Great Britain consider that government or their local MPs should be actively supporting continued provision of broadcast services via DTT.[13] Younger people also took a strong position on this, with 83% of 18–24-year-olds sharing this view. The clear message from viewers and listeners is that broadcast services play an important role today and should be protected into the future.

Figure 1: Extent to which continued provision of Freeview services through an aerial as free services is considered essential or very important by region

Note: Lowest sample size, North East, n = 75, highest = South East n = 295

These responses reflect the important social and cultural roles broadcast services play and which appear widely recognised by consumers. Asked to imagine a loss of broadcast services via DTT, Ipsos found that adults in Great Britain suggested they would feel angry, frustrated, upset, alone or isolated.[14] Many agreed they would find it “very hard” to keep up with news and important information (38% if without DTT, 37% if without radio), entertain themselves (23% if without DTT, 21% if without radio), or that they would “feel very lonely” (25% if without DTT, 23% if without radio).[15] Older age groups and those in lower social grades more often expect these impacts from a loss of services.

Broadcasting to continue as a primary access point to TV channels, including public service broadcasters

Broadcast services enable wide-ranging access to content that informs, entertains, and builds community connection. With regard to radio in Wales, BBC DAB services are available across 92.2% of homes, the Digital One multiplex provides 67.5% coverage, the Sound Digital multiplex covers 56.9% of homes, and Local DAB covers 82.6%.[16] Arqiva’s DTT network is available across 98.5% of the UK, providing a reliable source of television and access to public service broadcasting. The reach of DTT is unmatched by other platforms, and this will remain the case in the long-term. As highlighted by Openreach, national full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband will not be completed until within the 2030s[17]. There also remains a challenge in connecting remote, hard-to-reach households. Even where households are connected, as shown by Ipsos’ findings above, consumers clearly value the offer provided by broadcast services and are expected to continue watching and listening in the long-term.

Ipsos’ research further indicates that without DTT, many consumers would expect their viewing of TV channels to decline, which could impact overall consumption of content including public service broadcasting. Imagining a loss of service, 49% of adults in Great Britain suggest they would spend less time or stop watching TV channels altogether.[18] The youngest, 18-24s, are the most likely to suggest they would reduce or stop viewing. Importantly, people with access to other services such as cable, satellite or SVoD/BVoD platforms also expected to watch TV less or not at all without DTT (48% for those watching cable/satellite and 45% for those watching SVOD/BVOD). While survey respondents were reacting to a hypothetical scenario, their responses again point to the complementary roles of different services in the household, and the important role played by DTT in delivering broadcast content to people across the UK.

Broadcasting ensures public service broadcasting is accessible to vulnerable groups

It is also important to highlight the critical role of broadcast services in providing content that is free at the point of use, particularly given the current pressures of the cost-of-living crisis. Kantar found that over 1.6 million SVoD subscriptions were cancelled during the second quarter of 2022, reflecting in part the pressure on household budgets.[19] Ipsos also found that 13% of adults in Great Britain suggest they cannot afford to pay for services with monthly charges to watch TV shows, with the youngest (18-24s) more likely than average (19% v 13%) to say this is the case.[20] Further, Ofcom’s research has highlighted that around 2 million households experienced affordability issues with either their fixed broadband or smartphone in October 2021.[21] This underscores the significant value of DTT, which provides a wide range of content including critical news and information for the cost of the licence fee, with no added costs for monthly subscriptions or broadband services. This helps ensure households have access to reliable news and entertainment now and into the future.

While all demographic groups use DTT, it is especially important to vulnerable audiences. This includes the elderly, and lower social grades. Ipsos found that weekly DTT viewing peaks at two thirds (68%) of all people aged 75 years and over, a group less likely to use streaming services.[22] Further, while one in ten (12%) adults in Great Britain have a skills gap meaning they face challenges accessing TV or radio online, this rises to 23% amongst those aged 55 and over.[23] This is a significant issue given Wales ageing population, with the latest Census data showing that the proportion of the population aged 65 and over was 21.3%.[24]

 

 

DTT and broadcast radio will play vital roles in the community through to 2040 and beyond. It is important that the UK Government continues to provide ongoing support for these services and their delivery in Wales, and across the country, over the long-term.

Currently, there is only certainty of provision for DTT through to the early 2030s. The UK has extended DTT multiplex licences to 2034, subject to a revocation power that cannot take effect before the end of 2030.[25] There are several upcoming policy decisions that will also influence the long-term future of DTT. One of the most imminent is the UK’s position at the World Radiocommunication Conference taking place in 2023 (WRC-23), which Ofcom is currently consulting on.[26] At this conference, countries will negotiate the spectrum arrangements that are currently used to deliver DTT in the UK and enable programme-making and special events (PMSE) wireless equipment critical to content production and live events (including theatre, sport, and live music).

Ofcom’s call for input on WRC-23 invites views on the positions the UK should take at the conference. We believe it is important that the UK Government represents the interest of viewers and listeners in all our nations and ensures Welsh viewers and listeners are heard and taken into account. A “no change” position – in favour of maintaining the current spectrum regulatory arrangements in the frequency band used by DTT – would protect both DTT and radio services, which share DTT’s infrastructure, into the future, providing the certainty stakeholders need to invest in broadcast platforms for the long-term.

Of note, WRC-23 is the first WRC that the UK is attending not as a member of the European Union. Now we have left the European Union, we are able to assume a robust role on the world stage and drive international consensus in favour of a ‘no change’ position – which is of particular importance given the support for DTT and broadcast radio services in Wales and across all parts of the UK.

Recognising the ongoing importance of DTT, Arqiva alongside Age UK, Silver Voices, the Rural Services Network, and the Voice of the Listener & Viewer are calling on Government to provide a commitment to safeguard DTT and broadcast radio, in Wales and across the UK, to 2040 and beyond.[27] This would further help ensure the needs of UK audiences who depend on these services continue to be met into the future.

 

19 August 2022

 

 


[1] BARB, 2020, Establishment Survey Annual Data Report, https://www.barb.co.uk/download/?file=/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/BARB-Establishment-Survey-Annual-Data-Report-Volume-1-TV-Network-and-Appendices-Oct-2019-to-Sept-2020.pdf

[2] RAJAR, 2022, RAJAR Data release Quarter 2, 2022 – All Radio Listening, https://www.rajar.co.uk/docs/news/RAJAR_DataRelease_InfographicQ22022v2.pdf

[3] Kantar, 2022, Half a million Brits leave the streaming market, https://www.kantar.com/inspiration/technology/half-a-million-brits-leave-the-streaming-market

[4] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[5] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[6] Ofcom, 2021, Media nations: Wales 2021, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/222893/wales-report-2021.pdf

[7] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[8] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[9] RAJAR, 2022, RAJAR Data release Quarter 2, 2022 – All Radio Listening, https://www.rajar.co.uk/docs/news/RAJAR_DataRelease_InfographicQ22022v2.pdf

[10] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[11] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[12] Ipsos found that 90% of adults in Great Britain believe broadcast services should continue to be supported. Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[13] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[14] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[15] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[16] The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 2022, Policy paper: Digital radio and audio review, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/digital-radio-and-audio-review/digital-radio-and-audio-review

[17] House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee, 2022, 1st Report of Session 2022-23, Licence to change: BBC future funding, https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/23091/documents/169130/default/

[18] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[19] Kantar, 2022, Half a million Brits leave the streaming market, https://www.kantar.com/inspiration/technology/half-a-million-brits-leave-the-streaming-market

[20] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[21] Ofcom, 2022, Affordability of Communications Services, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/232522/Affordability-of-Communications-Services.pdf

[22] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[23] Ipsos, 2022, The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television and Broadcast Radio, https://www.arqiva.com/Importance_of_Broadcast.pdf

[24] Office for National Statistics, 2022, Population and household estimates, Wales: Census 2021, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/bulletins/populationandhouseholdestimateswales/census2021

[25] The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 2020, Consultation outcome: Consultation on the reneal of digital terrestrial television (DTT) multiplex licences expiring in 2022 and 2026, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-renewal-of-digital-terrestrial-television-dtt-multiplex-licences-expiring-in-2022-and-2026

[26] Ofcom, 2022, Call for input: UK preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23), https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/category-1/call-for-input-uk-preparations-for-wrc23

[27] Arqiva, 2022, “Protect traditional TV & radio” say the British people as Broadcast 2040+ campaign launches, https://www.arqiva.com/news-views/news/broadcast-2040-campaign-launches