BBC shows should be more prominent in television guides so they do not lose out to commercial rivals such as Netflix, one of the corporation’s senior executives has said.
James Purnell, director of radio and education, argued that new laws must be brought in to promote BBC programmes over those of competitors such as Sky, Netflix and Amazon.
He warned that the BBC and other public service broadcasters face a ‘real threat’ of losing out to commercial services in a ‘golden age’ of digital viewing.
James Purnell, director of radio and education, put forward the argument for the BBC
Live TV shows by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 should therefore appear at the top of all television listings so they are easily accessible, the senior executive said.
Recent years have seen a dramatic change in TV viewing habits, with more than six million households signed up to streaming services. More than 17 million households now subscribe to a pay-TV service.
Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph ahead of a debate in the House of Lords later, Mr Purnell said: ‘If we don’t update the rules, we’re at serious risk of losing something very special about our British culture.
‘This isn’t a bout forcing people to watch public service programmes, or stopping anyone watching American shows we all love.
‘It is about making sure you can find them easily.’
But the BBC senior executive was last night accused of ‘blatant self-interest’ by commercial rival Sky.
A spokesman for Sky told the Daily Telegraph: ‘This is blatant self-interest. For many years we’ve provided the top five slots on the programme guide to public service broadcasters, making them easily accessible.’
At present, legislation brought in 2003 dictates that public service channels – including BBC One, BBC Two ITV and Channel 4 – must be shown at the top of television listings.
But Mr Purnell argued that the law has failed to keep in line with ‘rapid growth’ in the quantity of available channels and a change in viewing behaviours.
He made particular reference to the boom in ‘on-demand’ services, which allow viewers to watch programmes whenever they want.
He warned that the BBC and other public service broadcasters face a ‘real threat’ of losing out to commercial services in a ‘golden age’ of digital viewing
He writes: ‘Some pay-TV platforms are already making ‘free-to-air’ services harder to find. On the new Sky box, Sky Q, there is no one button on the remote control that takes you to live TV.
‘Instead, “Home” takes you to Top Picks – a set of recommended programmes chosen by Sky.’
Mr Purnell’s comments come ahead of a debate on the issue in the House of Lords today.
An amendment to the Digital Economy Bill has been tabled by Labour peer Lord Wood of Anfield, which would give Ofcom the power to mediate if BBC channels are not prominent enough.
Mr Purnell argues that peers should back an amendment forcing service providers to give live television top billing.
But the Government believes this would remove competition, and that consumers, not legislation, should drive on-demand services.
A spokesman for the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, last night told the Daily Telegraph: ‘With users increasingly able to personalise their own homepage for on-demand services, it would not be in their interests to legislate against this progress.’