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Channel 4 CEO calls for greater support of PSBs

Alex Mahon believes situation could have "huge ramifications for our democracy" if left unchecked

Channel 4’s Alex Mahon has made a statement in Parliament calling for greater support and promotion of public service broadcasters.

“With our world increasingly characterised by the erosion of democratic values and by social division we are seeing that Fake News, the Echo chambers and so called filter bubbles are able to proliferate and thrive,” Mahon told MPs.

“Our Public Service Broadcasters – the BBC, C4 and others – are the counter balance to all these issues.”

Mahon pointed out that while content is increasingly being watched beyond the traditional TV set – through streaming services like Netflix or Amazon, via Smart TVs, plug in streaming sticks and on tablets, phones and games consoles – “it is clear that audiences still want access to the kind of high quality content that reflects our lives and our British democratic values.”

Despite these changes in technology, young people (16 -24s) across the UK are still watching nearly two hours of broadcast TV a day, but by 2020 the majority of all video viewing by people under 35 will be on-demand.

Mahon commented on the changing landscape: “Our old ways of thinking about people making choices through the prism of TV listings and Electronic Programming Guides or EPGs have already changed hugely – and will only continue to do so.”

The Channel 4 CEO also pointed out that, while a third of UK households now subscribe to services like Netflix or Amazon Prime and the share of TV streams from streaming sticks has risen from two per cent to 15 per cent in the past three years, the rules designed by Parliament which ensure users can easily find PSB content do not apply in any of these environments.

“Personal recommendations and commercial, paid for relationships are driving viewing choices on these services,” she said. “For example, when you plug a streaming stick in to a TV, what gets promoted is what the manufacturer wants to push to you. This is all unregulated with no proviso for PSB at all.

“This means that British viewers are directed to content through the user interface of the device manufacturer not through the EPG that Parliament has so carefully legislated around, and that Ofcom has powers to regulate. None of these devices are regulated for prominence – and we are facing the prospect of a new generation of viewers who will be unable to find PSB content as they go to watch TV.” 

Mahon believes this could have “huge ramifications for our democracy” if left unchecked.

“We will be asking Government and Ofcom to ensure that for any device (Set Top Box, streaming stick, smart TV, games console) that is sold in the UK that in the first page of the User Interface that you use to get to TV content, be it live or on demand, the PSB players have a protected prominent position,” she said.

“We need to retain our impartial PSB strength, act now to ensure the citizens of this country have access to content which reflects their lives, our communities and provides a trustworthy alternative when faced with issues like fake news.”