Conor Dignam on Broadcasting: C4 deserves support from Ofcom but not at the expense of the BBC

The British television industry is again caught up in a blizzard of briefing notes, as communications' regulator Ofcom considers what public service broadcasting should look like beyond digital switchover.

Ofcom's review is designed to ensure a plurality of public service providers once the British broadcasting market is fully digital. It's the watchdog's way of saying that public service broadcasting is facing a crisis in the near future, where the only supplier we might be able to rely upon would be the BBC.

The review is driven primarily by the fact that the established order of analogue TV, in which broadcasters accepted public service obligations in exchange for winning licences, is over. So Ofcom is moving ahead with devising some new form of public intervention in the TV market (in addition to the BBC), and clearly working on the basis that plurality of public service provision is likely to mean plurality of public service funding mechanisms.

But the longer this exercise goes on, and the harder one looks at TV's current set up, the more it raises questions about whether another new, and significant, intervention in the market is really required or justified.

There are real risks with some of the options being considered. One of the most likely outcomes, fairly heavily hinted at by Ofcom, is that the other publicly owned broadcaster Channel 4 may receive more direct support, to bridge what the channel has identified as a £150m future funding gap.

But there are significant questions about any approach which gives C4 direct access to public funds. The first is what such a funding model would do for C4's identity. The BBC's chairman Michael Lyons was probably overstating it recently when he claimed that giving C4 part of the licence fee would effectively turn it into BBC5; but it was a clever way of getting across the message that such a move would fundamentally alter C4's position as a public purpose broadcaster that has never had to directly depend on public funds. Such a change would put at risk the spirit and purpose that has made C4 so successful.

That's without going into the inevitable legal challenges that any such move would face in the European Court by commercial rivals who would not sit back while C4 received direct state-aid but also competed for advertising revenues.

Both C4 and ITV can still be expected to deliver public service output for some years to come. ITV can huff and puff about regulatory overload but if its executive chairman Michael Grade doesn't want to be a PSB then he can hand back the broadcaster's terrestrial licence – and go fully commercial. Both ITV, C4 and many other commercial broadcasters will still invest significantly in the kind of quality content we might classify as PSB (because it's an original UK production and quality TV) because it has to compete with the BBC for audience share.

None of this means the BBC is simply allowed to grow bigger and more complacent. If there really is a "digital surplus" in the licence fee, once switchover from analogue has been achieved, then perhaps the government can actually reduce the cost of the BBC licence fee to viewers.

This laissez-faire approach may appear complacent to some readers. It isn't. Of course, C4 is an essential part of the PSB ecology and must be helped where necessary and in an appropriate way. But it's also clear that C4 has already had an enormous amount of support in terms of the spectrum it has been granted for its digital brands. It's also clear that ITV can't go on forever with its PSB obligations.

With the publicly funded BBC and the publicly owned C4, along with natural competition from the commercial market, there is enough in the mix to preserve a degree of public service plurality in the digital future.

Ofcom, when it reports back in September, must be careful to ensure the issues facing public service broadcasting are not exaggerated – and that any new intervention in the market is in proportion with what is really required.

No more flagellationbut a little bit of nudity

The movers and shakers of the British television industry will once again descend on Edinburgh over the bank holiday weekend for the annual TV Festival.

One of the highlights of the event will be a live How to Look Good Naked, where we're promised a couple of TV execs in the buff (potentially horrifying, but bound to attract an audience). This year, in response to the scandals and scams that have rocked the industry over the last 18 months, the organisers of the festival have come up with the theme of We Love TV – to celebrate all that is great about British TV.

It's easy to understand why they've done this; after all, the industry has spent almost two years now in a process of self-flagellation. You can imagine the festival committee saying "Let's stand up for TV, talking about the positives and all the great stuff."

This is a perfectly rational response to the events of the last couple of years. There is no excusing the actions of those producers and executives who have let down their viewers and their peers – but a sense of perspective has been missing in some of the wilder coverage. Putting the hair shirts away for this year's festival is a good idea.

The problem with the theme of "loving TV" is it doesn't really go anywhere as a theme for a conference programme. All in all – naked TV executives aside – it looks a fairly predictable Edinburgh, which is why for the first time in six years I'll be taking a full bank holiday rather than making the trip to Scotland.

I'm sure that there will be plenty of people who will let me know if I've missed much.

ITV programmes chief Fincham could probably do with a stiff drink

ITV has cancelled is usual drinks party at next weekend's Edinburgh TV Festival where journalists mix with ITV executives who, through gritted teeth, would dodge questions about the network's latest woes. Cost-cutting may be one reason for cancelling the event, but I suspect it's also a sign of ITV's lack of confidence, and a general resentment about the press it gets. Executive chairman Michael Grade isn't coming along to Edinburgh either.

The network continues to complain about its regulatory woes to Ofcom – but blaming the regulator can only go so far. ITV's chiefs have to take responsibility for the shows they commission and schedule.

Last week it announced an autumn line-up that featured new dramas such as Lost in Austen and Above Suspicion, the new work from Lynda La Plante featuring a female detective played by Kelly Reilly. ITV has high hopes for its new musical entertainment show Britannia High, which it prays will capture the millions of young fans of Disney's High School Musical.

New director of television Peter Fincham has had nothing to do with the autumn schedule of programmes announced last week. He has only been in his new job for a matter of weeks so most of these shows will have been originally commissioned by his predecessor Simon Shaps.

But Fincham will be hoping he is lucky with what Shaps has left him. He will certainly need some luck. Last week Broadcast reported that ITV's share of audience for the previous week had dropped to its lowest level since 2001 – just 16.1 per cent. Some of this can be blamed on the dog days of summer and ITV's deliberately choosing to field a weak schedule when millions of people are on holiday, but the fact is shows such as drama Harley Street have failed to find audiences. After England let ITV down by failing to qualify for Euro 2008 – costing the broadcaster an estimated £10m in revenues, ITV chiefs will be hoping the team does better in its home qualifying matches for the World Cup, which ITV has won the right to show. But Fincham, who is one of TV's sharpest operators, has his work cut out. There won't be any honeymoon period. Advertisers and the City want better results now – so that means the autumn schedule will be vitally important, even if he had nothing to do with creating it.

Conor Dignam is digital content director for Emap Inform

Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Life & Style
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Business, Marketing and Tourism Volunteer Projects

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: As part of an ongoing effort to support local...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal