BBC licence fee top-slicing not on agenda of Ofcom review

Netflix, Amazon and Apple may face scrutiny under third public service broadcasting review by regulator

Ofcom has launched a major review of public service broadcasting, but will not seek to "ask or answer questions" relating to the BBC that will be covered in the royal charter review, such as top-slicing the licence fee.

Launching its third major review of the sector, Ofcom said it will look at "new intermediaries which control platforms" – presumably firms such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple – "including their control of potentially valuable direct relationships with audiences."

Ofcom said that "new intermediaries" means any new platform, service or device that might "sit between" a PSB and the audience.

"Examples might include smart-TVs, new on-demand streaming services, smartphones and games consoles," said a spokeswoman.

Channel 4 will also come under particular scrutiny, with Ofcom to look "in depth" at the competition provided from "large, well-funded global media companies and a range of innovative online providers".

"Both offer compelling alternatives for the younger audiences that Channel 4 seeks to appeal to," said Ofcom. "Will Channel 4 be of sufficient scale to compete successfully and retain its younger audience?"

Ofcom made it clear that it will not look to pre-empt the wide ranging review of the BBC that will be part of the royal charter renewal process, which is due to begin "relatively shortly" and be put in place from 2017.

"We will not seek to ask or answer questions in relation to the BBC which are matters for the forthcoming charter review process," said Ofcom. "Our work on the BBC will focus on its role in the overall delivery of the public service broadcasting purposes and objectives, to establish both the contribution and impact of the BBC as part of the system of public service broadcasting."

For example, Ofcom said that it has no intention of "considering further additional work" into areas including "top-slicing", a hot topic of debate in its last review. Ofcom said this matter was covered extensively in previous PSB reviews.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said that the charter review is a "matter for government".

"During the PSB review, we will consider the role of the BBC as part of a review of how the PSB system has, as a whole, met the purposes and objectives of public service broadcasting since 2008," she said. "However, we expect certain areas will not be covered during our review as they are matters for government as part of charter review. For example, the future scale, scope and funding of the BBC."

Ofcom also said that it does not intend to "examine in detail" whether there might be a "more optimal mix" of institutions for delivering public service content in the future.

The review will cover the period from 2008 to 2013 inclusive, as well as looking at how the market might develop over the next five years and beyond.

Ofcom said its initial analysis of the sector will run until the autumn, a public consultation will follow, ending in the spring.

The regulator said the final analysis will be done in late spring, with publication of the findings next summer.

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Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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