BBC and ITV will be ordered to make more 'distinctively British' shows
16th September 2021

BBC and ITV will be ordered to make more ‘distinctively British’ shows under new rules to protect UK content and make sure it appears on streaming giants

  • Minister John Whittingdale revealed government plan for ‘more British’ shows
  • He welcomed global investment but warned against UK TV being ‘watered down’
  • Mr Whittingdale said ‘if set and made in Britain’ it should be ‘distinctively British’
  • He also revealed intention to make sure UK shows appear on streaming sites 

BBC and ITV will be forced to create ‘distinctively British’ shows under government plans to protect UK content and ensure it is given prominence on streaming giants like Netflix.   

In a keynote speech to the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention, John Whittingdale, the media minister, said that the government wanted to ensure British content wasn’t ‘watered down’ by global investment from tech firms. 

Mr Whittingdale delivered the speech in place of Oliver Dowden, who was removed from his job with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport about an hour before he was due on stage at the society’s Cambridge Convention. 

The junior minister said: ‘If it’s set in Britain and made in Britain by our public service broadcasters, then it should be distinctively British.’

The government also plans to enforce ‘must carry’ rules on digital platforms like Netflix, to ensure British shows can still be found on streaming services.

The move would help broadcasters appear in the best positions on tech platforms without extremely costly agreements.  

Junior minister John Whittingdale revealed plans to ensure TV shows produced in the UK are ‘distinctly British’. Pictured is the cast of Downton Abbey

In a keynote speech to the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention, John Whittingdale said that the government wanted to ensure British content wasn’t ‘watered down’ by global investment from tech firms

Mr Whittingdale said the governnment believes the ‘globalisation’ of broadcasting means ‘content we watch is set in non-specific locations or outside the UK’.

This, combined with an international cast ‘communicating in US English’, means that UK content is ‘at risk’ from US streaming giants, he suggested.

The minister added: ‘Global investment is extremely welcome – but I want to make sure it doesn’t water down British creativity or the British brand.

‘Public service broadcasters have a unique role and I want them to continue producing shows that allow people in every corner of the UK to see their lives reflected on screen, and that showcase the things we are most proud of to the rest of the world. To make programmes that are iconic, not generic.

‘So in our upcoming White Paper, I intend to include proposals that will expand the remit of public service broadcasters, so that it includes a requirement for them to produce ‘distinctively British’ content.’

Outlining his desire to ensure content from the BBC and ITV is given a prominent place on streaming services, he added: ‘I want to ensure British broadcasters get the exposure they deserve – no matter how their content is consumed. 

‘Public service broadcasters have been part of our national life for almost a century, and are uniquely placed to reflect our values. It’s incredibly important that they keep their place at the heart of television.

‘That’s why we plan to legislate as soon as possible, and make it a legal requirement that major online platforms must carry PSB content, and that they must ensure it’s easy to find.’    

Ofcom, the media regulator, could also be handed new powers when the 2003 Communications Act is updated to ensure that firms like Netflix have fair commercial deals with British broadcasters.  

Mr Whittingdale also warned that ‘standing still is not an option’ for Channel 4 following a Government consultation into the privatisation of the broadcaster.

At present, the channel, which was founded in 1982, is owned by the Government and receives its funding from advertising.

Outlining his desire to ensure content from the BBC and ITV is given a prominent place on streaming services, he added: ‘I want to ensure British broadcasters get the exposure they deserve – no matter how their content is consumed’. Pictured is Doctor Who

In his speech, Mr Whittingdale said Channel 4 is ‘one of this country’s greatest assets’.

‘One clear way of making sure our British broadcasters thrive is putting them in the right financial position to compete and succeed for decades to come – no matter what the future of broadcasting holds,’ he added.

‘Right now, Channel 4 is in a stable position. But I think too many people are fixated on Channel 4’s current situation. I’m much more concerned with its long-term future.

‘I believe that if Channel 4 wants to grow then at some point soon it will need cash. Without it, Channel 4 won’t have the money to invest in technology and programming, and it won’t be able to compete with the streaming giants.’

He said the money can either be raised ‘on the back of the taxpayer or it can come from private investment’.

The Government can ‘unlock that much-needed investment’ and ‘can do so while protecting the parts of Channel 4 that none of us want to lose’, he added.

The consultation into the ownership of Channel 4 closed on Tuesday.

Mr Whittingdale also praised Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics and its broadcast of Emma Raducanu’s US Open victory for providing ‘national moments’.

The government also plans to enforce ‘must carry’ rules on digital platforms like Netflix, to ensure British shows can still be found on streaming services. Pictured is the Top Gear cast

‘A Channel 4 with a protected remit and deeper pockets could bring us many, many more in the future,’ he added.

‘If people disagree, then this is my challenge to them: please tell me how they’d intend to protect Channel 4 and the wider creative industries in a fairer, more sustainable way.

‘Because standing still is not an option. In fact, it would be an act of self-harm.’

On Tuesday Channel 4 warned there is ‘no evidence’ privatisation will benefit UK audiences or the economy and may instead ’cause them harm’.

In a statement, Channel 4 said: ‘Having considered all the available analysis extremely carefully, we have concluded there is no evidence that the irreversible transfer of Channel 4 from the British public into private commercial hands will be of benefit to either British audiences of the UK economy, and may indeed cause them harm.’

Nadine Dorries has been named as the new Culture Secretary while Mr Dowden is now Minister without Portfolio.

Reacting, Dame Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of ITV, said: ‘ITV is proud to play a key role as a PSB helping to inform and entertain the whole UK every day on TV and online. 

‘Increasingly, as people watch TV online it’s going to be more and more critical that they can easily find content from PSB providers on the online platforms they use, and that commercial PSBs like ITV and Channel 4 are able to make a fair return on that content. 

‘This will not be the market outcome in a world of a few global platforms so we welcome the government’s decision to update the rules for the online era.’ 

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