Written evidence submitted by Arqiva
Arqiva response: Call for evidence – Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Media Bill
Name and role: Laurie Patten, Director of Strategy and Regulation
Response on behalf of: Arqiva
Arqiva welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee’s Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Media Bill call for evidence.
Arqiva operates at the heart of the UK broadcast industry. We provide and operate the infrastructure that makes free-to-air broadcast TV and radio available to everyone. We also deliver content management and distribution platforms, enabling content providers to reach audiences across devices and services. Through our services and infrastructure, we ensure that the principle of universal access and availability of public service programming is delivered, and enable our customers to reach audiences across the mix of content platforms used today.
We welcome the draft Media Bill and support its underpinning objective to modernise broadcasting legislation. The UK media market has changed significantly in the last two decades, with a wider range of platforms available from global and local content providers. The Media Bill is an opportunity to update the regulatory framework and support a thriving UK media sector now and into the future, while maintaining the fundamental values that define and have helped support a thriving and varied media environment offering viewers and listeners universal access to a wide range of valued content.
The draft Media Bill outlines a wide range of reforms. There are several areas that we consider require further consideration and clarification in order to ensure that broadcast TV and radio can continue to deliver on its important role providing universal access to public services and other content that UK audiences enjoy, rely on and expect.
We wish to make the following points and recommendations for areas for the Committee to review:
Delivering universal public service content and supporting a sustainable broadcast market
It is an expectation that public service content is widely available and free at the point of access, ensuring that everyone can derive value from it. Universal access to public service TV programming is enabled through the digital terrestrial television (DTT) network and infrastructure, which is also used to deliver broadcast radio across the UK. Broadcasting is a primary means for millions of people across the country to access public service programming. For example, as of September 2022, 88% of the time people spent consuming BBC content was via its broadcast services. Broadcasting will continue to play important roles in delivering content to all audiences in the future, with estimates that by 2034, nearly 20 billion hours of TV will continue to be watched through DTT.
We believe that there is a need for further clarity on how changes to the requirements of public service broadcasters (PSBs) in the draft Media Bill would impact the universal delivery and provision of public service content. The draft Bill would enable flexibility in the distribution technologies PSBs use to fulfil their public service remit and content requirements. PSBs’ online platforms play an important role in delivering content, but these services are less widely accessible and used than broadcast services due to a range of factors, including challenges with connecting rural and remote areas with broadband of sufficient speeds, the difficulties faced by many to afford broadband services and that there are still many who do not want or do not regularly use internet services. It is not currently clear what safeguards would be in place to ensure audiences that use and rely on broadcast services would continue to have the same access to public service content and listed events as they do today.
Clarity around the obligations on the PSBs in this area is also important as major shifts in the distribution of PSB content could have a wider impact on the overall broadcast sector. The DTT network currently delivers over 70 free-to-air channels across the UK, including the channels of the five PSBs, providing a wide range of choice in viewing content to audiences. The network is shared with broadcast radio services (DAB, FM and AM), which are highly popular across the UK. RAJAR indicates that 72% of the one billion hours of radio listened to weekly in the UK is delivered through DAB and analogue radio. The costs of delivering and maintaining the broadcast network are shared amongst its users. PSBs withdrawing or reducing broadcast services, or changes to the universal nature of the services provided could have an impact on the wider broadcast ecosystem across TV and radio.
Further, uncertainty around the long-term commitment to the broadcast platforms that underpin universal access to free to air content risks impacting the capacity of the sector to take sensible long-term investment decisions. As highlighted above, PSBs are key contributors in a larger broadcast ecosystem, and shifts in their delivery of services could have a wider impact on the market and potentially the business case for further investment in broadcasting. For example, broadcasting is already understood to be a far more energy efficient distribution platform for TV content than online delivery; with a study commissioned by Ofcom finding that consuming TV online requires about six times more energy than DTT. Still, the broadcast network could be even more energy efficient with scope to invest to further support the industry on its journey to achieve net zero.
Broadcast TV and radio play integral roles in the UK, enabling everyone access to a wide choice of services. These services will remain valued and widely used across the UK through to 2040 and beyond. We therefore request the Committee consider the potential impacts of the draft Media Bill on the universal access to public service content and listed events through broadcast platforms, and any potential knock-on impacts on viewers and listeners and the wider broadcast market if availability of these services is not safeguarded.
Regulations for the provision of local news radio services
The draft Media Bill new section 315A would enable the introduction of regulations to ensure that at least one local digital radio service in a local multiplex area carries local news and information. The example is given in the explanatory notes that Ofcom “could be required to impose conditions in local radio multiplex licences requiring the multiplex operator to carry at least one digital radio service carrying local news and information, or to reserve capacity on the multiplex for a radio service carrying local news or information.”
We support the ongoing provision of local news services and the value they deliver to UK audiences; however, multiplex operators should not be made responsible for the oversight of provision of local content requirements. From our reading of the draft Bill and explanatory notes, the new powers would potentially result in new regulations placing multiplex operators in a position where they are required to monitor, enforce and potentially even create content to ensure the delivery of local news in local multiplex areas. This obligation should continue to sit with the licence holders for content services and be overseen by Ofcom through its licensing regime.
Local news or other content requirements continues to sit more appropriately with licence holders themselves and overseen directly by Ofcom through its licensing regime. Multiplex licence holders are not in a position to ensure that news content remains available, or to monitor and evaluate whether radio services are delivering local news or other content in a manner satisfying licensing standards. This area of the Draft Media Bill requires clarification of the intent and purpose of seeking to make this change and amending to ensure that the requirements continue to remain with content providers and overseen by Ofcom through its licensing regime.
New radio multiplex licence conditions
The draft Media Bill seeks to introduce new conditions on radio multiplex licence holders. These include:
There is a lack of clarity around what issue these new requirements would be seeking to address and how these requirements would be implemented. Ofcom currently already has powers to collect information from service providers so it is not clear what these new provisions seek to add.
We consider that further information is needed on the context for introducing these new regulatory requirements and detail of what information could be required by Ofcom and potentially published, recognising that Ofcom already has powers in this area to collect such information. This would provide greater insight into the possible outcomes of introducing the new requirements.
Overall, while there a range of matters requiring further consideration and clarification, Arqiva supports the work being undertaken to modernise the UK’s broadcasting regulatory framework. We would welcome the opportunity to input further as the work of the Committee develops.
Thank you for your consideration of this response
Arqiva Limited. Registered office: Crawley Court, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 2QA United Kingdom. Registered in England and Wales numbered
 National Audit Office, 14 December 2022, A digital BBC, https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/A-Digital-BBC.pdf
 Enders Analysis, 16 December 2022, Leading the UK into digital: DTT switch-off, but when? https://www.endersanalysis.com/reports/leading-uk-digital-dtt-switch-when
 RAJAR, 2 February 2023, RAJAR Data Release Quarter 4, 2022, https://www.rajar.co.uk/docs/news/RAJAR_DataRelease_InfographicQ42022.pdf
 Carnstone, 28 October 2022, Carbon emissions of streaming and digital terrestrial television, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/246165/Carbon-emissions-of-streaming-and-digital-terrestrial-television-3.pdf