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Friday, July 4, 2008

Whither (or is it "wither"?) Public Service Media?

A “question time” session on the state and future of public service broadcasting began by questioning the use and definition of the term itself. BBC Children’s Controller Richard Deverell noted that the regulator Ofcom’s definition from five years ago – quality, creativity, serving all and measurable outcomes – remains valid; what’s changed is the range of companies, channels, platforms and venues where public service content is being provided, that weren’t necessarily considered or included originally.

Janey Walker, Head of Education and Managing Editor of Commissioning for Channel 4, added that the audience demand must also be part of the equation in defining public service content, though, and that is is dangerous to define it solely in terms of commercial market failures (i.e., public service is to fill gaps that the market can’t or won’t); Channel 4 wants to reach as many people as possible, and it shouldn’t diminish public service value if they use a popular format and put it on at 8 in the evening.

Blogger’s Note: A few years back, especially when I was working on the “One Mission Many Screens” report for PBS and the Markle Foundation, we used the term ‘public service media’ to replace ‘broadcasting’ in recognition of the public’s migration to multiple screens. In evolving now to ‘public service content,’ defined in large part by its “purposes and characteristics” (a term used by regulator Ofcom’s Head of Market Research James Thickett), how will this affect the concept of publicly funded or at least publicly sanctioned media outlets…under that definition, do bloggers and YouTube become part of public service media?

Another major debate during the “Future of Kids’ PSB” session was whether the advocates for British-made children’s media – principally PACT (the producers’ alliance) and Save Kids’ TV – have been “too nice,” and whether it’s time to harden their campaign.

Everyone seemed to agree that the strength of the activists’ argument is that it’s a “nice” one – everyone with children wants the best for them. Janey Walker suggested using that as a starting point on the high ground, but said ultimately the battle would be won by using the hardest-headed accountants who can come up with sustainable funding plans.

Adam Minns, speaking for PACT, noted that the advocates may not have achieved all their goals, but said they’ve made undeniable progress since Showcomotion 2006, when the movement was born: there has been press coverage, Channel 4 has proposed investing 10 million UKP in teen programming, and Ofcom’s CEO was quoted that “children’s is the ‘bleeding edge’ of public service issues.”

Anne Brogan agreed, but said while the topic is on people’s lips, it’s not yet achieved action. She paraphrased MP Ed Vaizey from the night before as saying, “I’m with you but I won’t put money or time in.” This led the BBC’s Deverell to suggest that it’s time to make politicians uncomfortable if they do nothing.

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