U.K. Media Regulator Ofcom Sets Strict Rules for BBC’s New Operating License

U.K. media regulator Ofcom has laid out the rules for the BBC’s new operating license, which comes into effect from April 1.

There are several operating rules that serve as cornerstones for the new operating license. The Ofcom regulations recognize that while the license fee paid by the public provides a steady income for the BBC, inflation means that program hours could be cut.

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The new operating license requires that the BBC adheres to more than 70 quotas across its broadcast TV and radio services. The quotas safeguard the delivery of news and current affairs content on the BBC’s main broadcast TV and radio services, the distinctiveness of the BBC’s radio services via quotas on music and sports and the provision of original and new U.K. content. The quotas also ensure that the BBC commissions a minimum amount of content outside London and in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The new license now also comprehensively regulates the BBC’s online services, including streamer iPlayer and streaming radio service Sounds. It requires the BBC to make important content, including content for the nations and regions, and at-risk programming, available for online audiences, and to make that content easily discoverable. Ofcom also requires the BBC to provide a wide range of content, including music, arts, religion, ethics, other specialist factual content, comedy and children’s programming, as well as programs for learning Gaelic.

Additional transparency requirements oblige the BBC to set out extensive information alongside its annual plan about how it will meet its requirements, and with its annual report about whether it has delivered on those plans. This information includes total broadcast hours and hours of new content by genre.

“If we are concerned that the BBC is not delivering for audiences, we will take further action, and if necessary impose new requirements. We could engage in a structured but informal way with the BBC, direct it to provide and publish further information, or even move quickly to impose new quotas,” the new license states.

“If the BBC does not comply with the license, we will act. Should the BBC fail to publish the information required by the new transparency provisions in the license, we can direct it to take swift remedial action, or force it to disclose the information to Ofcom so that we can publish it ourselves,” the statement adds. “We can also add further transparency requirements to the operating license, and we will assess this on an annual basis. In serious cases of non-compliance, we can take enforcement action.”

Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s group director for broadcasting and online content, said: “We recognize that the BBC needs to adapt quickly to keep up with changes in what viewers and listeners want, and how they get their content. So we’re future-proofing our regulation to enable the BBC to transform and innovate, while safeguarding content that matters most to audiences.

“We’ve been particularly disappointed by the BBC’s lack of detail and clarity around planned changes to its services, which has led to a lot of uncertainty for audiences and industry. Our strict new reporting rules will ensure the BBC is held to a higher level of public accountability, requiring it to clearly explain its plans before going ahead, as well as evaluating whether they work.”

A BBC spokesperson told Variety: “The BBC’s regulation needs to evolve for the digital age so we can serve audiences with impartial news and distinctive U.K. content in a fast-changing global market so we welcome these changes. We are committed to transparency and will set out how we plan to deliver for audiences in the year ahead in our upcoming annual plan.”

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