The need to collaborate

Earlier this year Sharon White, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, told the UK broadcasting industry to collaborate to compete. She called on the UK’s Public Service Broadcasters to partner with their competitors to find “common ground to navigate the changing landscape together”.

Collaboration is often talked about in the TV industry, but despite nodding heads and positive noises, it rarely happens. Sadly, Sky’s innovative content deal with Channel 4 stands out as the exception that proves the rule.

But where the PSBs have worked together is in calling on Government and Ofcom to create new regulations that would force pay TV platforms, Smart TVs and other connected devices to make the PSBs on-demand apps like the BBC iPlayer and the ITV Hub the first thing viewers see. This is in addition to the rules that already make sure BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 take the top five slots on any TV guide.

As the PSBs see it, competition from new content providers, new technology and changing viewing behaviour means that audiences aren’t able to find British shows.

But is this true? Are viewers really not able to easily find and watch PSB content? The evidence and data suggests the opposite. 

Take Bodyguard for example – a show that captured the public’s imagination and became the UK’s most watched drama since current records began, significantly boosted by viewing to the BBC iPlayer where it has received over 38 million requests to watch. The same is true for ITV’s Love Island; over 4m viewers tuned in to see Dani and Jack win the latest series with nearly 2m requests to watch the final live on the ITV Hub. And more than 7m people saw Rahul be crowned Bake Off champion just a few weeks ago on Channel 4.

Clearly viewers have no issue with finding PSB content be it live or on-demand. They gravitate towards it, pulled by quality content from the PSBs. As such, platforms like Sky have a strong commercial incentive to make sure PSB content is easily available without the need for regulation. That’s why we have long given prominence to PSB content, not just in the linear TV guide, but in all areas of our user interface, including the catch up menus.

In fact, Ofcom’s own report shows that on-demand content from the PSBs is available, discoverable and pre-loaded on British TV platforms like Sky, Freeview Play, Virgin Media and YouView. It takes just three clicks to select and watch BBC One on Sky Q, the same number of clicks as it takes on the BBC’s own iPlayer platform.

Sadly it is true that on some Sky services, BBC content is impossible to find, but that’s because the BBC has refused to make its content available in the first place. The BBC has not granted Sky permission to include its linear channels or its catch-up programming in the Sky Go and Sky Q mobile apps.

Given this, it would be bizarre to introduce a new law to promote certain content, without a similar obligation on PSBs to ensure that this content is provided to platforms in the first place.

The PSBs also claim that their content is “vital to our democracy” – indeed ITV specifically argues that its provision of impartial news means it should receive prominence for the ITV Hub. But there is no sign of on-demand regional and local news on the ITV Hub at all, and even the national news is buried way behind non-PSB content like Love Island and Celebrity Juice. With this in mind, it’s difficult to understand ITV’s claim that “If people want accurate news, we need prominence”. If that were true, it would surely make more sense to make the Sky News app more prominent than the ITV Hub.

To be truly prominent, the PSBs should be working with platforms to make their content available in all ways that viewers want and can discover it, rather than seeking to trap it in proprietary walled garden apps that often don’t contain PSB content. Viewers should be able to watch what they want, how they want, with platforms free to innovate – rather than being forced to follow a prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ approach. 

At Sky, our starting position is always that we want to work with broadcasters, not against them, in the interest of viewers. In many ways, Sky is the best partner the PSBs never knew they had, helping to deliver significant reach, revenue and attribution. Our recent partnership with Channel 4 has helped bring new audiences to both their and our content, proving that collaboration, not regulation, works. If only the other PSBs would recognise that and stop seeking to introduce regulation for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Ofcom and Government need to look beyond the rhetoric of the PSBs and closely examine their claims before acting to further regulate the regulated with British viewers caught in the middle.

Read Sky’s response to Ofcom’s consultation on ‘Proposed changes to the linear EPG Code and future of the prominence regime’ here