Ofcom statement on the delivery of public service programmes by ITV Network
This statement sets out Ofcoms views on ITV Networks planned delivery of its public service remit in 2010, with particular reference to childrens programmes. Its release coincides with todays publication by ITV of its annual Statement of Programme Policy, available on ITVs website at www.itv.com.
Overall regulatory background
Regulation of commercial Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) is arranged in three levels or tiers. At Tier 1, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code sets standards in matters such as offence, protection of children, and political impartiality; this applies to PSBs and all other broadcasters licensed by Ofcom. Tier 2 requires Ofcom to set quotas for particular types of output on commercial public service broadcasters (ITV/Channel 3, C4 and Five), such as news, current affairs, and originated productions. Tier 3 refers to the broader public service remit, where Ofcom has no power to set quotas. In these areas, broadcasters are primarily responsible for deciding what volume of output to deliver.
ITV Network is changing its output of childrens programmes, arts and religion. These genres fall within Tier 3 genres and are effectively subject to self-regulation by the commercial PSBs.
Under the Communications Act 2003 a broadcaster must consult Ofcom where a significant change is proposed to its programme policy that is one which would make the service materially different in character from in previous years. The broadcaster must take account of Ofcoms opinions in preparing its Statement of Programme Policy but the Act does not give the regulator the power to allow or disallow proposed changes to Tier 3 delivery.
ITV Network has informed Ofcom about a change to its childrens programming for 2010. Unlike for previous years, ITV does not intend to specify any minimum amount of childrens programming that it will broadcast. Instead, ITV will respond to demand as the business requires.
In 2009, ITV Network undertook to broadcast a minimum of 40 hours of childrens programming across the year i.e. less than an hour a week. So, the change now proposed by ITV cannot in itself be described as significant, in relation to the overall character of the service, compared with last year alone. Nevertheless, the potential absence of any childrens programming from the channel in 2010 leaves the output markedly different from five years ago.
In 2005, ITV Network transmitted as much as 10 hours of childrens output per week. This fell to 8 hours in 2006 and to 4 hours in 2007. In the following year (2008) Ofcom published a statement expressing its concern at further erosion of ITVs commitment by 36 per cent to two and a half hours per week. However, Ofcom was unable to take any further action since ITV was able to demonstrate it had taken account of the regulators opinions in reaching the decision.
Childrens programming is a vitally important part of PSB, and ITV/Channel 3 has historically been a major deliverer in this area, alongside the BBC. ITVs decision now to withdraw entirely from any firm commitments to childrens programming is therefore a matter of regret. However, we recognise that it is an inevitable consequence of a changing media environment. The position was anticipated in Ofcoms Second PSB Review, which concluded that a balance needs to be maintained between the declining value of the licence to ITV and the cost of fulfilling public service obligations. We concluded that Channel 3 licence obligations in future should be focussed on the key areas of national news, regional news (as far as possible) and original programming in general.
In identifying these priorities, we noted that the latest figures available (first quarter of 2009) suggested that 93 per cent of homes with children had digital television, with access to dedicated childrens channels including ITVs own childrens channel, CITV. We are aware that digital penetration has continued to rise since then. There are now 30 dedicated childrens channels available on satellite TV, and three on Freeview.
Our analysis and approach to regulation of public service broadcasting was accepted in the Governments Digital Britain Final Report, which concluded that the best future prospects for childrens television on commercial public service channels lay with Channel 4. The Digital Economy Bill gives Channel 4 Corporation new responsibilities in relation to content for older children and young adults.
Other changes on ITV Network
ITV Network is also reducing its commitment on arts output from 20 hours in 2009 to 12 in 2010; and to reduce its religious output to one service at Christmas (actual delivery Jan-Oct 2009 was 14 hours). We do not consider these adjustments to be significant in terms of the overall character of the channel.