In my paper on the future funding of the BBC (see http://www.attentional.com/), I argued that the Government needs to be more specific about Public Service Content. Most of what the BBC broadcasts is not public service content, unless you define it very broadly. But a broad definition means that we end up subsidising a large amount of entertainment, which people would be happy to pay for.
A working definition of core public service content might be: “content that most reasonable people would like to see available to everyone”. Most surveys suggest that News falls into that category. That does not mean all news should be publicly funded: merely that Government should ensure that accurate news is widely available.
I argued that Government should set up clearer criteria for public service content and develop expertise in “public value”. Broadcasting is about communications. There are many ways of communicating and broadcasting may not be the best carrier for all of messages. Expertise in choosing the best way to deliver a message would be one part of the package.
Beyond news, children’s programming is another item that must be on the agenda. In fact, it’s a good example around which to rehearse what tools Government might need.
For a start, Government needs to know as much as possible about the role of TV in teaching children about the world, helping their development, “socialising” them. I do not know how much work has been done on this and I am going to start looking into it. My guess is: not enough. What kids need really is the issue here.
The Government must also know popular opinion, whether people – and particularly parents – are happy with what they are getting, whether they see gaps in the supply, etc.
If there were gaps, and even if the perceived gaps did not concern pure public service content, Government might seek evidence of “market failure” and address it.
This would help Government to get involved in the kinds of issues that now concern makers and broadcasters of children’s content in the UK. The first and most important is how much original content – and what kinds of content – should be made specifically for children in the UK? A second question is: how should broadcasters act to give children maximum access to this content?
A lot of children’s content is co-produced. This is because the BBC – and others – do not “fully fund” most children content but send producers off to find parts of their budgets from other countries. Should broadcasters in receipt of public funds be told to pay more?
And because children’s content may reach most children at times of the day when most adults would also be watching, the BBC and other broadcasters have an incentive to move children’s content away from such popular slots. A policy based on a clear view of childrens' needs would help Government to take a line on this issue too.
(When I use the term “Government”, I am speaking about the regulatory structure that government puts in place. If it delegates to another body, a government needs to be sure that the delegated body knows government policy and is equipped to enforce it).