Insights Future of TV Distribution: Ofcom publishes report


Ofcom has published a report on the future of TV distribution in the UK. It follows a request from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2022 for Ofcom to carry out an early review of market changes that may affect the way content reaches audiences on Digital Terrestrial Television (“DTT”), as well as a call for evidence last year. The report sets out the current viewing habits of the general public, and considers how the universal provision of TV – particularly public service broadcasting – can be sustainable in the years ahead.

The report highlights how the increased choice of alternative viewing options (such as watching content over the internet) means that, according to Ofcom’s calculations, the proportion of long form programmes watched on scheduled TV channels through DTT and satellite will drop from the current figure of 62% to as little as 22% by 2040. Such projections have led to a large number of broadcasters and DTT stakeholders warning Ofcom that there will come a point at which it will no longer be economically viable to support DTT in its current form. The report states that “without a clear vision and careful planning for the long term that includes all audience groups”, there is a risk that poorly coordinated decisions are made that leads to a decline in the range and quality of choice for those who rely on DTT services, and threatens the universality of public service TV more generally.

In response to these challenges, Ofcom has set out three approaches that could be taken in the long term to protect the universality of TV services. The first is to invest in a more efficient DTT service if the DTT platform could deliver sufficient scale of audiences over the next decade. This might take the form of, for example, providing audiences with new equipment for more efficient broadcast signals. The second is to reduce DTT to a core service, meaning that it would maintain a minimum number of ‘core channels’ (such as the main public service channels) either indefinitely or as part of a transition to a full switch-off of DTT. Finally, DTT could be switched off altogether, albeit Ofcom makes clear that this would require careful planning to ensure that certain groups of society are not disproportionately affected, thereby threatening the universality of public service broadcasting.

Whichever approach is ultimately adopted (and Ofcom does not express a preference), it is estimated that it would take 8-10 years to plan and execute. It will also not only require investment in internet infrastructures to manage the load on networks associated with more people streaming programmes, but also initiatives to encourage the take-up of broadband services, including work done to help people use them (such as the design of easy-to-use internet-based interfaces).

More than anything, the report makes clear that stakeholders want certainty about the approach the Government intends to take as regards the future for TV distribution, and that cross-sectoral collaboration will be essential. To that end, the Government has announced a programme of work on TV distribution which will consider Ofcom’s report before setting out which approach it will ultimately adopt.

To read the report in full, click here.