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Ofcom consults on public service content

UK regulator Ofcom on Wednesday laid out its proposal for the formation of a Public Service Publisher (PSP), the new media equivalent of a public service broadcaster.

The PSP would use new distribution platforms such as broadband, mobile and digital broadcasting to deliver distinctive, UK-originated public service content.

Ofcom envisions the PSP as a networked, participative new media organisation in contrast to the traditional broadcasting focus of the existing PSB (Public Service Broadcaster) model.

The regulator said it “believes that there are valid arguments both for the creation of a new organisation and for the PSP to be linked to an existing media provider”. Initial evaluations estimate that the organisation could make “a significant impact” for an initial budget of £50-100m per year.

Ofcom began investigating the potential for a PSP in February 2005. It found that, despite continued public support for Public Service Broadcast, the existing terrestrial analogue model of commercially-funded PSB will not survive the transition to digital and may erode rapidly prior to 2012.

“Consumers – especially those under the age of 25 – are increasingly taking advantage of new internet-based and mobile technologies that allow users to create, modify and comment on content. It is this transition toward a more complex, interactive relationship between audiences and visual media that would form the focus of the PSP,” the regulator said.

Ofcom suggests the PSP could offer rich new media experiences by allowing audiences to re-use content as well as view it; placing user participation at the heart of much of the content; including high-quality audio and video content developed for new media distribution and use rather than traditional broadcasting; and driving community activity, including location-sensitive content and the ability to collaborate to create new material.

The news could make painful reading for a number of the UK’s broadcasters, including the BBC. Earlier this week, Ofcom warned that the BBC’s plans to make its TV and radio content available for download could have a “negative effect on competition”.

The regulator is particularly concerned with assessing the extent to which the BBC’s proposed services “might deter innovation and investment” by rivals. “Were those providers to be deterred from seeking to offer competing services this would ultimately have the effect of reducing choice for listeners and viewers, to the detriment of the public interest,” the authority said.

Ofcom’s next review of the PSP will begin in 2008 and will further address the potential of a new PSP. The deadline for responses to the initial views is March 23.

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