Nadine Dorries – 2022 Statement on the Broadcasting White Paper

The statement made by Nadine Dorries, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in the House of Commons on 28 April 2022.

Our TV and radio industry is the envy of the world. Production studios across the country are booming, and British-made shows like “I May Destroy You” and the “Great British Bake Off” are celebrated all over the globe.

Our public service broadcasters (PSBs) are absolutely central to that success. Sitting at the heart of our broadcasting system, they help to develop skills and talent across the country; they drive growth right across the creative industries; and they deliver distinctive, instantly recognisable British content that you would not find anywhere else.

But broadcasting has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The last time broadcasting regulation was overhauled, in 2003, Netflix was a DVD rental business. Today, it is one of several American streaming giants offering viewers a daily selection of new content—from Amazon Prime to Disney+ to Hulu to Apple TV and beyond. Viewers increasingly watch programmes on their laptops, phones or smart TVs, choosing what to watch, and when to watch it.

In this new broadcasting world, the competition for audience share is fiercer than ever. In recent years, as streaming services have enjoyed a 19% rise in subscribers, the share of total viewers for “linear” TV channels like the BBC and ITV has fallen by more than 20%.

The Government are focused on ensuring British broadcasters can not only hold their own in this fight, but also flourish in projecting the best of British across the world. Today, I am therefore publishing a White Paper that proposes major reforms to the sector that will update our analogue rules, and enable our broadcasters to thrive in the streaming age.

The White Paper contains a number of key proposals.

First, we want to ensure that in a world of smart TVs and online platforms, our PSBs continue to receive the exposure they deserve. On a traditional TV, our PSBs are given “prominence”: they hold exclusive rights to the first five channels on every television set in the UK. We plan to update those rules for the digital age, by passing legislation that will ensure public service content is always carried and easy to find on all major platforms—including on smart TVs and Fire sticks.

Secondly, while the UK boasts a vibrant and diverse broadcasting system, we need to ensure consumers are protected in this fast changing landscape. We are therefore proposing a new video-on-demand code that will hold streaming services to similar standards as traditional broadcasters like the BBC and ITV—particularly when it comes to protecting audiences from harmful material.

We also plan to overhaul and simplify the complicated public service remit so that our PSBs can focus on the things they do best—such as creating distinctively British programmes and providing impartial and accurate news.

We are also proposing reforms to the listed events regime, so that PSBs have exclusive rights to bid first for the crown jewels of the sporting calendar—including the FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon.

Finally, over the past year we have been carefully considering the future of one broadcaster in particular: Channel 4.

Channel 4 is a key part of our national, economic and cultural life. Since the broadcaster was established in the early 1980s, it has more than fulfilled the original aim for setting it up—shaking up the TV schedules with original, disruptive programming and boosting our independent production sector. In the last few decades, the independent production sector has grown six-fold—from a £500 million industry in 1995 to £3 billion in 2019.

But the broadcasting world around Channel 4 has changed immeasurably during that same period. Like every other broadcaster, it now faces huge competition for audience share— and many of its competitors have incredibly deep pockets. Streamers such as Amazon Prime spent £779 million on UK original productions in 2020—more than twice as much as Channel 4.

In addition, Channel 4 faces a series of unique challenges. Challenges that other public service broadcasters with different ownership models do not face. While other WSPSBs such as the BBC and Channel 5 have the freedom to make and sell their own content, Channel 4 has no in-house production studio and its ownership model restricts it from borrowing money or raising private sector capital. It is left almost entirely reliant on advertising revenues. Those revenues were already shifting rapidly online. As seen last week, the competition is only set to heat up now that Netflix has confirmed it intends to enter the advertising market.

It is our view that, under its current form of ownership, Channel 4’s options to grow are currently restricted, with fewer options to invest and compete. Those are serious challenges, and anyone who chooses to dismiss them is burying their head in the sand.

As a responsible Government, we are prepared to acknowledge those challenges head on, and do what is needed to protect one of our most important broadcasters not just today, but in the years to come.

The Government therefore believe it is time to unleash Channel 4’s full potential, and open the broadcaster up to private ownership—while, crucially, protecting its public service broadcasting remit.

The sale of Channel 4 will not just benefit the broadcaster. Channel 4 was originally established to help boost independent production and it has been successful in that mission—so successful in fact, that we face a new and very positive challenge: production studios across the country are booming. They are so in-demand, in fact, that we need more and more people to work in them. I therefore intend to funnel some of the proceeds of the sale of Channel 4 into addressing that new challenge, and giving people up and down the UK the skills and opportunity to fill those jobs—delivering a creative dividend for all.

I want Channel 4’s next chapter to be one in which it goes above and beyond what it has already done regionally, and plays a starring role in levelling up our creative industries.

But the sale of Channel 4 is just one part of a major piece of broadcasting reform. As set out in the White Paper I am publishing today, it is a reflection of the transformation that broadcasting has undergone in the last few years—and the need to make sure that our PSBs can keep pace with those changes.

Our TV and radio industry is already the envy of the world. Today, we are giving British broadcasters the backing and support they need to rule the airwaves for years to come.

In connection with the above, my Department has made the following documents available on gov.uk:

“Up next—the government’s vision for the broadcasting sector”

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/up-next-the-governments-vision-for-the-broadcasting-sector

“Decision rationale and sale impact analysis for a change of ownership of Channel 4”

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-a-change-of-ownership-of-channel-4-television-corporation/outcome/decision-rationale-and-sale-impact-analysis-for-a-change-of-ownership-of-channel-4

“Government response to the consultation on a potential change of ownership of Channel 4 Television Corporation”

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-a-change-of-ownership-of-channel-4-television-corporation/outcome/government-response-to-the-consultation-on-a-potential-change-of-ownership-of-channel-4-television-corporation

“Government response to the consultation on audience protection standards on video-on-demand services”

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/audience-protection-standards-on-video-on-demand-services/outcome/government-response-to-the-consultation-on-audience-protection-standards-on-video-on-demand-services

“Government response to the Digital Radio and Audio Review”

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/digital-radio-and-audio-review/government-response-to-the-digital-radio-and-audio-review

I will also deposit copies of these documents in the Libraries of both Houses.