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The future of PSB and terrestrial TV the hot topics at the Westminster Media Forum

On 6 July 2022, the Westminster Media Forum hosted the latest in its series of regular policy conferences, focusing on the topic of "The future for media policy in the UK". The first session of the conference was chaired by Lord Inglewood, the former Minister for Broadcasting, with a range of speakers discussing "heritage, competition, relevance and sustainability - key issues for the future of UK media." 

Unsurprisingly, there were several vocal advocates for strong and well funded public service broadcasters, (not least Clare Sumner, Director of Policy at the BBC), but also Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History at the University of Westminster (and also the official historian of the BBC), who stressed the importance, particularly in the current era of misinformation, of broadcasters like the BBC providing a source of neutral, impartial and trusted information and programming to the British public. 

This view was echoed by Colin Browne, Chairman of Voice of the Listener & Viewer (the consumer group which champions public service broadcasting and speaking for listeners and viewers), who railed against the government's proposed privatisation of Channel 4, despite various public consultations purportedly demonstrating a broad lack of support for such a move.

One of the most enlightening contributions of the early morning session came from Laurie Patten, Director of Strategy and Regulation at Arqiva, one of the UK's foremost providers of broadcast transmission infrastructure. Patten cited research into UK terrestrial broadcasting viewing habits, (albeit commissioned by Arqiva themselves), which revealed the continued reliance on linear viewing of terrestrial television channels by significant portions of the public, even though PSB channels are widely available online via services like the BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub. In some cases more than 50% of segments of the population continue to watch TV content via TV aerials on their homes, particularly amongst the elderly demographic and in rural communities. 

Patten and the "Broadcast 2040+" campaign group, which campaigns to safeguard digital terrestrial TV and protect its funding by government beyond the 2030s, also highlighted the green credentials of digital terrestrial broadcasting - as opposed to streaming services accessed via broadband- and the fact that "no-cost" Freeview TV is more important than ever for consumers in an era where the cost of living has skyrocketed.


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