How to save television

British television is in crisis. The BBC swings from scandal to scandal as politicians threaten the licence fee: their one safe way to look tough. Channel 4 searches for investors that aren’t completely culturally wrong. And ITV still looks shaky, despite its temporary salvation in the shape of Susan Boyle. So what’s to be done? Here’s a ten point, only partially self-serving manifesto from Peter Bazalgette, non-executive chair of Sony Pictures Television’s UK production company and deputy chair of the NFTS:

Short term

  1. Make television as attractive and competitive an advertising medium as possible (ITV is currently selling ads at 1988 prices). This means sorting out contract rights renewal and permitting product placement.
  2. Apply the independent producers’ terms of trade to the £300m-worth of government content commissions a year.
  3. Make the BBC’s iPlayer an open platform for all content and, with the exception of simultaneously streamed BBC shows, let it offer subscription and advertiser-supported programmes.
  4. The BBC and C4 need to put an even larger proportion of their income directly into programmes and over the next two years close some of their more peripheral activities in favour of production.
  5. Restore the rapidly diminishing funding of the likes of Skillset and the National Film and Television School.

Longer term

  1. Seriously consider the European models for reuse and copying of content. Perspective Associates’ report for Digital Britain estimates that if platforms such as Sky and Virgin had to pay for carrying the PSB channels it could yield £90m a year (though some argue they would then decline to carry). The same report says that levies on kit that enables copying of content, such as Sky+ or recordable DVD, could deliver £175m a year.
  2. Sort out the policy vacuum around behavioural advertising. Personally targeted commercials could lead to a growth in ad revenue for content, but arguments over privacy and opting in or opting out need to be resolved urgently.
  3. Pursue a partnership with Google to optimise search for PSB content. It is time that broadcasting bosses stopped attacking Google and worked out how to persuade it to perform services. Getting proper revenues flowing on YouTube should be a priority on both sides.
  4. Develop policies for strengthening the new PSB suppliers – the “public service narrowcasters” such as Tate Media. Should they, perhaps, receive some of the licence fee?
  5. Tackle the various competition authorities whose verdicts are preventing investment in such services as local video news and video-on-demand.

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