Multiplatforming Public Service Broadcasting: The Specialist Factual Independent Production Ecology in the UK's Digital Television Landscape

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway University of London
Department Name: Media Arts


This project investigates the changing production ecology of the UK's independent specialist factual production sector in relationship to the role and future of public service broadcasting (PSB) in the emerging digital television landscape.

The digitalization of television, a process of switchover to be completed by 2012, brings with it better sound and visual quality, a growth in the number of channels available and increasingly 'converges' television's production practices, programming forms and audiences with other forms of digital media. From the development of websites associated with particular programs, through to the advent of interactive, mobile and online TV, television might be thought of as a 'multiplatform' experience. Television is no longer simply the 'box in the corner', but experienced and produced across a range of screens, sites and technological platforms.

This expansion of channels and platforms brings about increased competition for audiences, who have seen their choices for how, when, where and what kind of television to watch expand dramatically. As a result, traditional broadcasters are experiencing a continuing decline in the number and amount of time audiences spend watching TV. This has called into question the role of PSB as a funding and regulatory model for UK television, with the media regulator, Ofcom, recently suggesting that the future of PSB is at a crossroads.

Public service broadcasters are responding to these challenges with new commissioning, technologies and production strategies. Our study focuses on the BBC's and Channel 4's adoption of multiplatform production and commissioning strategies, which seek to exploit content and engage viewers across a range of digital media platforms. Such strategies not only produce new TV forms, but require new production practices. However, these changes and pressures are not only experienced by the broadcasters, but also by the independent television production sector, which increasingly includes digital media companies, which supply programs and content to them.

This project seeks to understand the function both independent production companies and these multiplatform practices have in shaping the future of PSB in the digital age. We do this by firstly examining the role that specialist factual independent production companies play in contributing to the shifting characteristics of PSB in the UK. Secondly, we position this role in relation to the way in which the production cultures of this sector respond to and creatively negotiate the move to multiplatform television as part of the wider commercial, regulatory, technological and cultural challenges of the digital age.

We examine specialist factual programming as a genre both traditionally associated with notions of PSB, but also recently ranked as one of those most highly valued by participants in Ofcom's first phase of its current PSB review. To do this, rather than simply examine the amount of specialist programming produced or the audience's reaction to it, we seek to unpick the industry's own understanding of this genre's role in contributing to distinctive characteristics of the UK's PSB landscape. By drawing on interviews with, and participant observation of, workers in the independent specialist factual production sector, as well as with commissioners and key players in the broadcasting industries, our research will establish what challenges and opportunities digitalization brings PSB. We then test these 'self-theorizations' by examining the programming practices and content of the independent sector, regulatory documents and discourses circulated within and by the television industry through trade journals, press releases and other trade artifacts.

By disseminating this research to industry, regulators, audiences and higher education institutions, this project will therefore make an important contribution to understanding the future role and shape of PSB.

Planned Impact

Independent television and digital media companies
The BBC, C4, ITV, other national and international broadcasters commissioning from the independent sector
Regulatory bodies, for example Ofcom
DCMS and national policy makers
Trade associations
Public sector, including museums and art galleries, which are increasingly commissioning digital PSB-style content from independent companies.

How will they benefit?
This research concerns both the nation's wealth and culture, with its investigation going to the heart of understanding changes in one of society's defining media forms: the role of the PSB ethos in the digital television era. PSB has played a fundamental role in shaping broadcast television, itself widely acknowledged as being a key definer of everyday public and private life. However, this role of PSB is often associated with a depiction of BBC as 'Auntie', a benevolent paternalistic institution funded by a licence-fee and sustained by the cultural practices of those in the 'White City'. By focusing on the emergence of multiplatform production and commissioning strategies, this research will investigate how PSB is a much wider cultural set of practices that informs both broadcast and digital media production, as well as examining how such practices have far reaching economic and cultural implications.
As the 'cornerstone' of PSB, understanding how the BBC internalises and practices the concept in their relations with independent producers will increase the effectiveness of commissioning and the deployment of those PSB aims in multiplatform programming. The research may foster consensual and dynamic understandings of PSB that will inform the commissioning and content creation imperatives of multiplatform production.
Beyond the BBC's relationship with independents, our research will help C4, independent TV and digital media companies to better understand each others' needs and challenges in the multiplatform era. As Ofcom recently recognised, one of the key arguments for continuing to support C4 was its role in 'helping to maintain a vibrant independent production sector.' Moreover, understanding the role of PSB in the cultural and creative worklife of independents and their broadcaster commissioners will help independent production companies pitch more effectively and efficiently for work, facilitate closer connections with multiplatform digital companies and thus help to sustain the economic viability and vitality of the sector. The impact of this research will be almost immediate, contributing towards understandings of PSB in the transformation from analog to digital and in the run-up to the BBC's next licence-fee renewal; both of which will largely determine the relationship between C4, the BBC and the independent sector. Given this will define the experience of TV in the UK, the project has high social value.

What will be done to ensure this benefit?
In addition to academic publication of key research findings and arguments, this project encompasses three key communication strategies to ensure the dissemination of findings well beyond the academic community:
1. Knowledge Transfer Conference: To take place in the final year of the project, this will be used to bring together industry, regulatory and academic bodies for dialogue and dissemination of preliminary findings.
2. Report to Industry Stakeholders: This will be a key publication from the project, aimed solely at disseminating the findings to the BBC, C4, Ofcom, independents, PACT and other relevant bodies. It will set out current practice in multiplatform production, understandings of the concept and practice of PSB within this context, evaluate the economic impact of multiplatform commissioning and identify opportunities for increased collaboration and improved relations.
3. We will ensure through the CI's contacts that the r
Description The research found that a 'fragile compact' existed between the independent sector and the PSBs, which had underpinned much of the commercial success of the independent sector as well as enhancing, extending and challenging the meanings of public service across multiple media platforms. It set out a radical notion for the future regulation of public service broadcasting in the UK: that PSB is a joint enterprise between commercially driven independents and the broadcasters. The compact between Indies and PSBs is what makes UK content unique, exportable and delivers cultural value to its viewers and users.
But it also suggested that this relationship was 'fragile'
• Increasing competition and diminishing security of PSB funding may reduce the commitment of independents to producing content with PSB characteristics;
• Changes in the sector that have fostered competition have also brought about increased consolidation, an emphasis on formats and international sales that can heighten pressure on production budgets, reducing creative freedoms, working conditions and individual workers' belief in PSB

The report made a series of recommendations to safeguard the compact, including addressing issues of rights negotiation; supplier lists for the broadcaster's relationship with the digital sector; regulation of the emerging connected TV market; an extended role for Ofcom training and accountability.
Exploitation Route Anyone interested in the future of television in the context of a digital media ecosystem will find the research useful, particularly for understanding how the industry engages with the problem of digital. It is particularly useful for those concerned with the future of public service broadcasting in a global context, but also the formation of public service media - which might combine public sector resources in providing digital media experiences. It was most recently used by Ofcom, again, in setting policy direction for convergence television and connected TV. It is also useful for those wishing to study production cultures of the television and digital industries.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Funded by the AHRC, and in collaboration with University of Sussex and London Metropolitan University, this two-year research project explored the cultural and economic value of the independent TV and digital production sectors in relation to public service broadcasting (PSB) in a digital age. Impact was delivered via: 1. An industry report: downloaded over 1000 times from the project website It featured as the leading story on Media Guardian on the day of release ( A further 100 hardcopies were distributed to industry, including a request for 25 reports from Channel 4. • The impact of the report was attested to in letters of support and acknowledgement from: • Head of Online, Channel 4, Richard Davidson-Houston (organizational strategy) • Ofcom (policy formation) • Department of Culture, Media & Sport (policy formation) • Creative England (industry value) • Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (member benefits) • Skillset (sector skills requirements) 2. An industry-academic knowledge exchange conference marking 30 years of the independent sector attended by over 100 delegates, half of whom were current industry professionals. The list of speakers included the Chief Executive of PACT (Producers' Alliance of Cinema & Television); Head of Channel 4 Online, and Chair of the National Skills Council for Digital Media The research's impact is underpinned by the strategy of dissemination, dialogue and concern to address the needs and interests of industry user communities. The research team interviewed over 100 industry professionals over the course of the project, often returning to key interviewees to update them on findings and discuss ways forward. In particular, the research team engaged policy makers (Ofcom), trade bodies (PACT), individual companies (Maverick, Somethin' Else, Lambent, Illumina Digital) and broadcasters throughout the duration of the project to share initial findings, hold feedback meetings, and agree shared research priorities. This included a detailed survey of PACT's membership regarding multiplatform economic and production practices. Update 2020: The partnership with Pact establisehd in this project was an important precursor to the success of StoryFutures - building industry relationships and credibility, with not only Pact but wider industry partners who have played a part in StoryFutures since its establishment.
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description Multiplatforming public service broadcasting: The cultural and economic role of UK digital and television independents
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
Description Royal Holloway - Pact partnership 
Organisation Pact
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We partnered with Pact (Producers' alliance of cinema and television), the UK's leading TV trade body to access their membership for survey and field work, focus groups and industry engagement. The result was much higher reach and impact of the work, including Pact officially supporting the final industry report and events - and ensuring members both contributed to and benefited from the ersearch.
Collaborator Contribution Helping survey design for Pact members, dissemination and promotion of survey and focus group, dissemination and promotion of findings and helping run workshops on successful exploitation of social for TV.
Impact Adapting to social media report.
Start Year 2009
Description Report calls for a digital WoCC and rights return 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Coverage of the industry report and conference in leading trade journal for the sector: Broadcast magazine. Sparked debate about the window on creative competition that remains on-going.

After the article there was increased interest in the final report of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Submission to House of Lords Select Committee on convergence and public service broadcasting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Summary report of AHRC findings to align with Select Committee's remit, specifically: • The role of public service broadcasting in a converged, multiplatform, world;

• The role that public service broadcasting plays in the independent sector, making its television and digital media content unique, exportable and valued in the world market

• The key changes that have occurred in the convergence of television and digital media over the past decade and its implications for the future - including the UK's world-leading position in interactive, multiplatform content and the possible threats to this status

• The role of regulation - Communications Act and Ofcom in a converged world

• The extent that different media industries do continue to exist, and their difficulties in working together, in a converged world;

• The relationship between plurality and economics in fostering a digital public service sector;

• The skill sets that can be pivotal to the continued creation of world-leading multiplatform and televisual content in a converged world

Not known
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description TV indies 'shunning risky shows in favour of factual entertainment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Guardian coverage of launch of industry report and industry-academic conference.

The article produced a follow up piece for a smaller trade publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012