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PSB vs Commercial Broadcaster

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To what extent are commercial and public service broadcasters different? Choose a commercial and a public service broadcaster, compare and contrast how they operate and their output. This essay tries to present the two types of mass-media finance: public service broadcasting and commercial broadcasting. The essay will be a comparison analysis between the oldest broadcasting company in the world, the BBC and ITV, the first commercial TV station in the UK. In the next lines I will describe, compare and contrast the characteristics of the way a public service broadcaster and a commercial one operates.

Also, I will analyse the output of each other in time, because the amount of audience ratings illustrates which type of television people do prefer. From a statement made by Johnson & Turnock (2005) a question could be raised: is it better the BBC’s public service broadcasting style which is regarded as a provider of quality programming, more suitable with the upper class, than the commercial approach that ITV adopted from the very beginning which is more appropriate for the middle class? In order to answer to the question above, firstly I will try to define the meaning of the “public service broadcaster” term.

According to Taylor ; Willis (1999), the idea of public service broadcasting has not a standard definition because the meaning of it has passed through some historical changes since its earliest manifestation in relation to the BBC. Although a number of official bodies have attempted to identify the most important characteristics. Public service broadcasters generally transmit programming that aims to improve society by informing viewers. In contrast, the goal of commercial outlets is to provide popular content that attracts a large audience, maximizing revenue from advertising and sponsorship.

For this reason, the ideals of public broadcasting are often hard to reconcile with commercial goals. James and Jim McDonnell (1990) show the characteristics and a list of possible goals of a public service broadcaster. They cited the 1985’s booklet “The Public Service Idea in British Broadcasting – Main Principles” of the Broadcasting Research Unit. Following the research, the geographic universality is a very important feature of a public service broadcaster. The station’s programmes should be available to the whole population. The second type of universality is the one of appeal.

According to this idea, broadcast programmes must satisfy all interests and tastes. A broadcaster which is in the public service should create a particular product for minorities, especially disadvantaged ones. Although the relationship between national identity and community must be remain. The most known attribute of a public service broadcaster is the type of funding. Almost all over Europe, the country’s community broadcaster it is publicly funded, but the manner could be different. In the UK, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the public service broadcaster is funded by a television license only.

The television license plus advertising system runs in countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Romania. In Slovakia and Albania, the public broadcasters are financed thorough a television license, advertising and government grants. Spain’s RTVE, Portugal’s RTP and Hungary’s public broadcaster Magyar Televizio receive government grants and also have the permission to sell advertising space. In Luxembourg, the public service broadcaster has to compete in the advertising market to cover its expenses, because there are not any television license or government grants.

An important principle that arises from the booklet says that a public broadcaster has to encourage competition in high-quality programming instead of struggling for rating. Due to the fact that a public service broadcaster receives all or a considerable part of their funding from governmental sources and it does not rely on advertising to the same degree as commercial broadcasters, allows it to create products that are less saleable, such as public affairs debates, documentaries and educational programmes.

In contrast with the characteristics of public service broadcasting exposed above, the commercial media refers mainly to the profit which is made from the advertisers. This is the American model of television which in time was adopted by almost every country in the world. A commercial broadcaster could show from 8 to 20 minutes of advertisements in an hour time, depending of the local regulator’s policy. The amount of money which it is paid by the advertiser it is mostly based upon the ratings of the respective TV station.

For this reason a commercial broadcaster relies too much on the advertising market and its output is in deep connection with the companies that are paying usually big sums of money to make know their products. A major criticism that is attributed to the commercial broadcasting system is the sensationalistic approach about most of the subjects covered. Another criticism about this broadcasting system is the influence of the political factor and commercial media ownership when it comes to reflect different public matters.

Returning to the public service broadcasting theme, I have chosen the BBC because it was the first publicly owned mass-media corporation. The British Broadcasting Company was formed in 1922 and became the British Broadcasting Corporation five years later. The person who mentioned for the first time the “public service broadcasting” term was John Reith, the BBC’s founder and also the earliest Director-General. He is the author of the BBC’s stated mission: “to inform, educate and entertain” and he also contributed to the corporation’s motto: “Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation”.

Seymour-Ure (1996, cited in Taylor ; Willis, 1999) highlights the existence of six principles upon which public service broadcasting was conceived by John Reith. The first of them outlines that the BBC shall provide its services as a monopoly. He argued that the monopoly of broadcasting must be controlled by the government in order to regulate national and international airwaves. The third principle outlines that the operation should be made through a board of seven governors. The national interest it is an important feature which the BBC must achieve it.

As a public service broadcaster the BBC should serve the interest of all and not any particular social group or vested interest. The fifth principle refers to its funding system. The BBC is founded by a license fee which it was established by the Sykes Committee. This method of financing was preferred rather than through the sale of advertising space, which was the model operating in the United States. The last principle outlines that the public broadcaster should run as a universal service. John Reith remained the leader of the BBC until 1938 and he had one of the most important roles in the development of the corporation.

About the Reithian way of seeing the television role in society, Scannel (1990, p. 13, cited in Taylor ; Willis, 1999, p. 109) has written that: “service must not be used for entertainment alone and that it should be continually striving to the greatest number of homes … all that was best in every department of human knowledge, endeavour, and achievement … Broadcasting should give a lead to public taste rather than pandering to it”. This idea says that the BBC should provide programmes that are in the public interest but could be also interpreted as a way of controlling and leading it.

Ten years after the departing of John Reith as the Director-General, in the British social life has appeared the idea of commercial television. Nearly six years lasted the struggle and the implementation of the commercial television or independent how was named in many studies. On Thursday 22 September 1955 Associated-Rediffusion started to transmit programmes in the London area, event which marks the breaking of the BBC’s monopoly. This initiative has had numerous contestants mainly because Britain, until that time, had only public owned broadcaster and the monopoly position held by the BBC was conceived like a ‘national brand’.

The Reithian period influenced so much the British mass-media spectrum, that even in our days his principles are still respected by the terrestrial TV stations, values that lies in the policy of mass-media regulators. Crisell (1997) states that the struggle to have commercial television in the UK was directed by Norman Collins, one of the ITV’s founders, and it was strongly sustained by business such as Pye Radio, the West End theatre managers, the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson and important mass-media brands like the Financial Times and the Daily Mirror.

Regarded to the opponents of commercial TV, Sendall (1972, cited in Crisell, 1997) notes that the biggest issue about ending the monopoly of the BBC by letting the ‘independent’ broadcasters to operate it is the content. The question was whether competition will raise or lower the quality of content. This debate led to the formation of two sides: the elitist view and the democratic or populist vision.

While the elitist view thinks that the quality programming means what the intelligentsia generally agreed was good or valuable, the latter insists that the greatest number of viewers decide what it is first-class TV products. The elitist sharers wanted to maintain the BBC’s monopoly appealing to the idea that competition would drive out quality. Their opinion argued that to capture the audience, the commercial broadcasters will offer populist programmes, and the BBC could be forced to abandon its public service principles.

The Britain’s anti-American feeling of those times was another reason for the elitists to claim that the mass-media field it is not yet prepared to make room to commercial broadcasting. “Behind (it) lay of sense economic inferiority, exacerbated by Britain’s dependence on American finance for post-war reconstruction, and a feeling that Britain’s cultural ‘superiority’ over the United States (and the values reflected in its history and traditions) was under threat” (Barnard, 1989, p. 9, cited in Crisell, 1997, p. 79).

The coronation of Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 was the greatest success for the BBC due the fact that it has been covered so well. But this event produced damage to the commercial broadcasting idea because in the United States, NBC interrupted the live programme from Westminster Abbey with advertisements for deodorant and tea. The public opinion in the UK was horrified of such way of broadcasting important events and at that moment the great majority was against commercial TV.

Although, a bright idea was made by the pro-commercial campaigners when they created the ‘spot advertising’ system, which consists in interrupting programmes to make room to advertisements by a separate jingle at the beginning and at the end of them. After a few years of work to persuade the House of Commons members, the pro-commercial campaigners won the ‘battle’ when the Television Act 1954 was passed. In this way was established ITV (Independent Television), the first commercial television as a regulated public service broadcaster.

The approval of the Television Act was favoured also by the economic environment following World War Two. With the financial aid from the Marshall Plan, the British economy improved and it was a great need of commercial television to broadcast the advertisements of the time’s greatest companies. The 1954’s Television Act established the regulation policy which must govern ITV’s actions, despite being a commercial broadcaster. At the beginning, ITV operated under license from the Postmaster General.

It had broadly the same principles that govern the BBC: to inform, educate and entertain. The Independent Television Authority (ITA) was the first regulatory body which ruled ITV. The section about administration and structure illustrates how different are the ITV and the BBC, despite they have the same goals and sets of rules to respect, which have been drafted by OFCOM, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. “The BBC is established under a Royal Charter. The current Charter came into force in 2007 and runs until the end of 2016.

It explicitly recognises the BBC’s editorial independence and sets out its public purposes … BBC is governed by the BBC Trust, which sets the strategic direction of the BBC and has a clear duty to represent the interests of license fee payers … The Executive Board holds the operational responsibility. It is in charge for delivering the BBC’s services and running the organization in accordance with the overall strategy set by the Trust”. “How the BBC is run” (http://www. bbc. co. uk/info/running/, no date). In contrast, the history of ITV is highly influenced by the franchise system.

ITV it is not owned by one single company. OFCOM gave fifteen licenses to franchises to provide regional Channel 3 services in various areas of the UK. This is the feature that makes ITV different from all other broadcasters. Johnson & Turnock (2005) show that ITV was shaped to provide a regional service, covering all the parts of the country, despite that at the beginning this system created them serious problems. In its history, ITV franchise ownership has been changed for several times: in 1968, 1982, 1992 and 1997.

The most important change had happened in 2004 when Carlton and Granada merged, creating ITV plc, with Scottish Television, Grampian, Ulster and Channel making up the rest of ITV 1 network. Even though the BBC it is a public corporation and the license fee of i?? 139. 50 perceived for each household provides at least i?? 4 billion per year, the Corporation also has commercial activities through BBC World Service. In this way, the BBC sells merchandising and programming world-wide. One of the most known programmes which the BBC created is ‘The Weakest Link’.

The format was sold and can be viewed and adapted in many countries of the world. BBC World Service sells advertising space through TV stations such as: BBC America, BBC Canada and BBC World News. This is certainly a common feature which the BBC and ITV share, despite the fact that it is only valid when we are referring to the international department of the BBC, World Service. A relevant comparison between the BBC and ITV is the audience shares registered in time. Seymour-Ure (1996, p. 175) shows the audience ratings from 1956 to 1994.

Right from its start in 1955, ITV succeed to exceed the BBC’s performance in matters of audience. After the first year of broadcasting, ITV had 62% of audience share and the BBC only the rest of 38%. The situation remained similar until the BBC launched its second channel, BBC 2, in 1964. Generally, after this event, the BBC was in top of audience rankings, only by totalling both stations: BBC 1 and BBC 2. In our days, the public funded broadcaster through its main channel, BBC 1, it is the leading TV station in the UK, with an amount of 24. 2% of share.

In the same ranking powered by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (2008), ITV 1 has just 16. 2% of share. As a conclusion of the facts presented in this essay, the BBC, as a license fee funded public service broadcaster distinguishes of the ITV’s commercially financed system for many reasons. Whether there it is the completely different funding system, the different types of programmes that are offered to the public or the administration structure, the BBC and ITV have as a common wealth the main principle of the early British television, principle which is respected even in our days: “to inform, educate and entertain”.

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