Ofcom to relax PSB obligations

The communications regulator Ofcom has set out its proposals for the future of public service broadcasting. The current obligations placed on ITV, Channel 4 and Five would be relaxed, allowing them to concentrate on the production of original UK programmes, though Channel 4 would be maintained as a public service alternative to the BBC.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said the proposals were designed to carry public service broadcasting into the digital environment. “The transition from the analogue era to the digital era offers public service broadcasting the opportunity to make the most of broadband, to make the most of mobility, to make the most of interactivity and all the wonderful services that digital makes possible.” One idea is the use of online to deliver local news and television services.

Ofcom’s preference is to maintain Channel 4 as an alternative public broadcaster through partnerships or mergers. However, the regulator does not give a view over whether it prefers a merger with the RTL-owned Five or with BBC Worldwide. Both options have been flagged in recent weeks.

The idea of top slicing the licence fee still remains, though only through the possibility of maintaining the £14 million grant that the BBC is already paying toward Channel 4’s digital switchover costs.