Ofcom wants rush on funding model

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LONDON -- U.K. broadcasting watchdog Ofcom on Thursday said it is important that a new public service broadcasting funding model is in place by 2011, some two years earlier than originally expected.

The uber-regulator review covers all PSBs, both publicly owned, such as the BBC and Channel 4, and commercial ones including ITV and Five.

Ofcom said that there is certainty that "a new sustainable model for public service broadcasting is needed" and that a "range of options for funding and provision" need to be considered.

In its second major review of the sector since its birth in 2003, the regulator declared public service programming to be at a "crossroads" and the underlying economics for advertiser-funded PSB channels such as ITV1 "unsustainable."

Research carried out by Ofcom shows a 17% decline in the public service channels' share of viewing since 2003, increasing to 22% among 16- to 24-year-olds.

The regulator published several proposed visions of the future for the industry to mull and debate including extra public funding for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five.

Other suggestions for the revamp might see ITV, Channel 4 and Five become "purely commercial" by axing noncommercial programming.

And the specter of industry levies, such as those currently active in France, also were raised by the regulator as a funding option.

Channel 4 said Thursday that it welcomes Ofcom's report because it "opens a discussion about preserving plurality in public service broadcasting provision in the digital age."

Channel 4 noted that the report's call for a new model for PSB comes "as the current legislative framework is not flexible enough to maintain current levels of public service broadcasting in a digital age where increasing pressures on commercial broadcasters are already growing rapidly."
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