Ofcom: Spending on First-Run U.K. Drama Down 44 Percent


LONDON: In its third review of public service TV broadcasting (PSB), Ofcom has raised concerns regarding the decreased spending on first-run U.K. children's programs and dramas.

The review examines how the BBC, ITV, STV, UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C have fulfilled the purposes of public service broadcasting. Ofcom finds that the public service broadcasters continue to make a significant contribution to U.K. broadcasting, including with content creation. In 2013, the PSBs invested around £2 billion ($3.1 billion) in new U.K. programs, not including sports content, compared to around £350 million ($547 million) from non-PSB sources.

The U.K. watchdog does point out that public service broadcasting needs to evolve in this increasingly digital world, where younger people are watching online, on-demand and across a range of devices. Since 2008, investment in new U.K. content, including sports content, from the PSBs has fallen by around £440 million ($687 million) in real terms, a decline of 15 percent between 2008 and 2014. Broadcasters have met this challenge through a mixture of savings and changes to the types of programs they make. As a result, the volume of new content remains high, with 32,491 hours of new U.K. programs from the PSBs in 2014, compared to 33,981 hours in 2008. "Ofcom believes that broadcasters need to adapt their models to maximize commercial revenues and efficiencies, and the PSB system needs to evolve as the trend towards online viewing grows," the firm said. "Otherwise, PSBs are likely to face difficult choices about which content and services they are able to fund."

Regarding program investment, Ofcom flagged the areas of children's programming and dramas. Spending on first-run U.K. children’s programs has fallen, from £103 million ($161 million) in 2008 to £88 million ($137 million) in 2014. Spending by ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 has dropped 74 percent overall, to just £3 million ($4.7 million) in 2014, leaving the BBC to account for nearly 97 percent of total PSB spending on children’s programs.

Investment in drama has also fallen. Spending on first-run U.K. drama has declined by 44 percent since 2008, from £484 million ($756 million) in 2008 to £278 million ($434 million) in 2014. The amount of new drama being shown on the PSB channels has fallen from 627 hours in 2008 to 371 hours in 2014—a decline of 41 percent.

Sharon White, Ofcom's chief executive, said: “Public service broadcasting continues to deliver TV that is enjoyed and valued by millions of viewers across the U.K.

“More people are watching online or on demand, and this presents challenges as well as opportunities for public service broadcasters. They must continue to find new ways of connecting with audiences, and the PSB system needs to evolve to ensure it remains effective in the digital age.”